Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Review of White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements, Questions and Answers
It is a pleasure to be in the Seanad again to address this august assembly of Senators in the Upper House. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Seanad and to seek its views on the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid. Members of the Seanad play an important role in supporting our efforts to reduce global poverty. Many Members have served on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade over the years and have visited the developing world themselves to see at first hand how Ireland is working in partnership with communities, civil society and partner governments to reduce poverty and inequality. I appreciate this support and engagement. I look forward to discussing the inputs of Senators to the review and engaging with them in the period ahead as we shape our aid programme and build on its successes.
I am proud to lead Ireland's overseas development programme. It has earned an enviable international reputation and is rightly recognised as one of the best in the world. The primary objective of the development aid programme is the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It is concentrated in some of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, has a rigorous focus on achieving results and provides strong international leadership in making aid more effective. Ireland's aid programme enjoys strong cross-party support and consistently attracts high levels of public support. Last week, an Ipsos MRBI poll commissioned by Dóchas found that 88% of Irish people are proud of Ireland's overseas aid programme. That is very gratifying, especially at this time of economic difficulty.
In my remarks today, I would like to first outline the process we have taken for the review on the White Paper on Irish Aid. Second, I would then like to raise with the Seanad some of the issues which are emerging though this process - issues which we will be taking on board as the review moves into its final stages. This will, I hope, set the scene for our discussions. The current White Paper was developed in 2006. The paper set our clearly why we give aid and what we are trying to achieve by doing so. At its heart was a commitment to reduce poverty and increase opportunity. We made a commitment to help children survive their first years and to go to school. We also committed to support people to have enough food to eat.
The White Paper was far-reaching and comprehensive. It has served the programme well by providing a solid policy basis for the decisions we have made. However, over the past six years, the world has changed. The context for international development has changed, and as Members of this House are all too aware, the context here at home has also changed. It is against that backdrop of transition that a review of the aid programme was included as one of the commitments in the programme for Government. We thought it was necessary and prudent to step back and assess the progress we have made and the challenges we have faced. We must assess the changing context at home and abroad and reassess how key issues, such as hunger, climate change, governance and human rights and gender equality are impacting on poverty. We recognised that it was time to set out the future priorities of our aid programme. From the start we have consulted widely and in an open and transparent manner. Our objective is to hear the views, suggestions and recommendations from those who own the programme - the people of Ireland. We published a consultation paper to inform the discussions and to provide guidance on how people could get involved. In order to provide independent oversight, the Irish Aid expert advisory group was requested to ensure that a meaningful consultation is undertaken and that the eventual review report is representative of that.
I pay tribute to Ms Nora Owen, the expert advisory group chairperson, and her colleagues on the group for the important role they have played to date. The public consultations have included more than 1,000 people. Public meetings took place in Limerick, Cork, Dublin and Sligo. The Human Rights Forum in February was dedicated to the review of the White Paper. We have conducted focus group discussions with key stakeholders such as NGOs, the private sector and, importantly, diaspora communities living in Ireland. We have undertaken consultations with other Departments, including through the interdepartmental committee on development which I chair. We have also encouraged individuals and organisations to make written submissions for the review. We have received more than 150 written submissions. We also have had active engagement through our website, and by using social media to reach out to as wide an audience as possible. We asked our embassies to hold local consultations in Africa to ensure that we hear clearly the voices of our civil society and government partners. The fruits of these discussions formed the basis of a regional consultation in Malawi in which I was pleased to participate. Consultation with members of the Oireachtas has been very important. I have appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs to hear the views and inputs of members. The public consultation process has now come to an end. I am satisfied that we have had an open process and that those with an interest in international development and Ireland's role have been given the chance to air their views and to influence the future direction of the programme. In the coming months, I will publish the review report which will set out a clear vision and priorities for how Irish Aid can continue to deliver real and lasting results for people living in poverty.
The evidence is emerging that aid is working. Development results in the past ten years have been the best ever recorded. Between 2005 and 2010, the total number of poor people around the world fell by nearly half a billion. Millions of child deaths have been avoided thanks to greater access to vaccines. A total of 40 million more children are going to school today than at the turn of the millennium. Ireland is playing its part in realising these impressive gains. Today, Irish Aid is recognised internationally as a world leader in delivering a high quality aid programme which delivers clear results for the world's poorest people. The programme works closely with partner governments to empower them to lead their own development. We work closely with other donors to ensure that the impact of all our aid is maximised to deliver agreed results. We work with independent and genuinely representative civil society organisations and the media from the developing world, so that they can fulfil their promise to defend the rights of the vulnerable in an unequal world. We are supporting parliaments fulfilling their critical oversight role. We have increased our engagement with the Irish public, by establishing the Irish Aid volunteering and information centre and by promoting development education in schools and in the community.
The eradication of global hunger is a key component of Ireland's foreign policy and a cornerstone of our development programme. We have taken a leadership role in this area by implementing the recommendations of the hunger task force, which sets out how we can tackle hunger most effectively. We have increased our focus on preventing and responding to humanitarian emergencies. We have established the rapid response register and financial systems to ensure our funding is provided within hours of a humanitarian emergency occurring.
In recent visits to Africa, I have seen for myself the impact of our aid programme. The number of households in Malawi with insufficient food has reduced from one in four in 2006 to one in ten today. In Ethiopia, agricultural production of grain more than doubled between 2004 and 2009. However, there are some areas in the White Paper where progress was less than expected. Ireland did not establish a tenth programme country, nor did we establish an Irish development bank. The White Paper was developed at a time of rapid economic growth in Ireland. The reduction in public expenditure, due to the difficult economic situation, has resulted in a decline of over 30% in Ireland's aid budget between 2008 and 2011.
It is important that by the end of the review process, we have a report which will guide us to prioritise further, and to focus on areas where we are confident that we will have the greatest impact on poverty. Our programme needs to provide full value for money for every cent that we spend. It needs to be fully transparent and accountable to the Irish public and to our partners. This has come out strongly in the consultations undertaken to date.
It is also imperative that we adapt effectively to the changing context globally and in our partner countries. To do so, we need to understand the changing nature of poverty, with emerging challenges such as rising food and energy prices, climate change and the global economic crisis. Africa is changing and developing faster now than ever before. In the first years of the new millennium and despite the financial crisis, annual economic growth in Africa ran at almost 5%. With this growth and development come opportunities for trade and a stronger role for emerging economies in world affairs. As countries drive their own development resources from increased trade and more efficient and fairer taxation, private sector investment, remittances and investments from emerging economies can all have a significant impact on driving sustainable inclusive growth, and reducing dependency on aid. It is important that overseas aid from Ireland complements but does not replace a country's own resources and energy.
The Africa strategy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recognises this new context and advances a new approach to Africa, upon which the White Paper review will build. This acknowledges the importance of complementing aid with efforts to strengthen domestic, regional and international relationships. This new reality in Africa is seldom portrayed in the media, or by NGOs that aim to engage and inform the public on global development issues. The portrayal of people in developing countries as passive victims of poverty and disease does not chime with the reality of their lives and the complexity of the societies in which they live.
While these messages may garner short-term financial support, we must unpack this somewhat patronising and simplistic view of poverty. We must have a more honest dialogue with the public on the political and policy changes necessary for eliminating global poverty and for tackling complex problems such as hunger and inequality. New tools and strategies must be developed and used to improve how we communicate global development issues. We must challenge those organisations whose messaging distorts, rather than accurately reflects, the often complex realities faced by poor people living in developing countries.
The review comes at a very important time in international development. Late last year we had the high level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, which set out a new agenda to improve the effectiveness of all partners in development. In June 2012 the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, will be held. In September 2013, the millennium development goals will be reviewed in preparation for the development of a new set of global development goals to come into effect in 2016.
The review of the White Paper, as well as the Irish Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2013, will give us an opportunity to draw from these international processes. It will allow us bring to bear our strong thematic focus on hunger and nutrition, and on the growing impact of climate change on the poorest countries and communities. A number of other themes have emerged strongly in the review to date, including the need for strong policy coherence for development, the need to maintain the focus on results and accountability and to use all of the tools available to the Government to bring about sustainable development. One practical example of this is the recent launch of the Africa agrifood development fund, which is a joint effort between my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This fund will support the development of new partnerships between the agrifood sectors in Ireland and in Tanzania and Kenya, in an initial pilot phase.
Other emerging issues include the need for a greater focus on post conflict situations and fragile states - countries which are home to around 1.2 billion people and are largely off track to meet the millennium development goals - as well as the problem of translating strong economic growth into equitable poverty reduction. The potential to make greater use of Irish institutional experience, as well as establishing a clear framework for volunteer exchange has also been emphasised. We are particularly anxious to engage with the cohort of public servants who took early retirement in February 2012 and who have significant professional and managerial experience. We also need to consider who we are working with and how. By providing substantial support to our partner countries, NGOs and civil society organisations, as well as to multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the EU, we feel we are able to react to different contexts in varied and appropriate ways.
This is an exciting time for the Irish Aid programme. The programme has strong public and political support. We are recognised as world leaders in development, and we want to prioritise and build upon what we have achieved to date in order to have an even greater impact. I am interested in hearing Members' thoughts on the issues which the review is raising. In particular, I would like to hear opinions on how we can maintain strong public engagement with global justice issues, given the extremely difficult times in which we live.
To conclude, Acting Chairman, I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to address the Seanad. I look forward to our discussion today and to feedback on the issues that I have outlined.
I thank the Minister of State for that excellent presentation. I again congratulate him on his most well deserved appointment. The White Paper on Irish Aid, produced in 2006, was a seminal moment for Irish Aid development policy. We welcome the review of the White Paper as an opportunity to reaffirm Ireland's commitment to the aid programme and the core principles of that programme. Fianna Fáil is very proud of the success of the Irish Aid programme to date, and we want to see the programme protected in the years ahead. The Government must remain firm in meeting the UN target for official development assistance of 0.7% of GNP, which was set by Fianna Fáil. While we recognise that the Irish Aid programme is now operating in a very different economic environment to that which existed when it was produced in 2006, we believe that the same priorities can still be met and must remain the same. Of course we must look at achieving the greatest value possible for taxpayers, and we must ensure that there is rigorous scrutiny of all funds allocated from the aid budget, whether that be to Irish NGOs or to multilateral agencies. The Irish programme is achieving real and tangible results in the nine programme countries in which it operates, namely, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Vietnam and Timor-Leste.
Two years ago Louth County Council asked me to travel to Malawi to officially open projects that had been funded by people who work for it. I spent over a week there and I paid for the trip out of my Seanad salary. While in Malawi, I made a substantial financial contribution and this was also funded out of my Seanad salary. The money raised by Louth County Council goes directly to projects in Malawi. There are two projects to which I wish to draw attention, namely, the building of a hostel at Kaseye girls secondary school, for which €20,000 was raised, and the building of a hostel for the teachers at that school, for which €15,000 was raised.
I had an awesome experience in Malawi. The young girls who attend the school in Kaseye, which is located in northern Malawi, arrive at the beginning of term in the back of a large truck. The local terrain is extremely hilly and is difficult to navigate. This and the fact that there are few roads in Malawi makes travel very tedious and slow. However, I did come across a road being built and I discovered that a team of Chinese workers were involved in the project. Children from all over Malawi attend the school to which I refer. The meals they are served are frugal. One of the main meals of the day consists of a small amount of fish served on a bed of rice. I discovered that the young girls at the school are extremely eager to learn and gain knowledge and that this is because they want to be able to extricate themselves from the poverty in which they live. There is no electric light at the school so after dinner each evening they study by candlelight. They go to bed at 10 p.m. and rise at 2 a.m. in order to study - again by candlelight - until 7 a.m. This reflects their desire to obtain an education. There is limited access to third level education in Malawi and it is extremely difficult to obtain a place at university in order to study to become a doctor or whatever. We are very spoiled in this country. All of us - myself included - tend not to appreciate all that we have available to us. Imagine being obliged to rise at 2 a.m. and studying until 7 a.m. in order to obtain a place at university.
Councillor Peter Savage initiated Louth County Council's project in Malawi. When opening the new hostel for the girls - in which 20 of them sleep on mattresses because there are no beds - as I cut the ribbon I named it for Councillor Savage. When it came to opening the hostel for the principal and the other teachers at the school, I named it "Louth House" in honour of what the people who work for Louth County Council have achieved in Malawi. The council's other projects in Malawi have involved the construction of numerous classrooms and the provision of benches for the children to sit at. I was extremely moved by one particular project in a really poverty-stricken area in which people live a primitive existence in huts whereby the people of Louth donated €4,000 for the drilling of a water bore. As a result of this project, the people to whom I refer had access to fresh water. During my visit there, I walked down the trail to the place from which the locals used to draw dirty water for use. I accept that we are here to discuss what is happening with Irish taxpayers' money in the context of our overall aid programme. However, I needed to take the opportunity to highlight the great work being done by the people who work for and on Louth County Council.
The Minister of State referred to the Department's conflict resolution unit. There is no doubt that we have a tremendous part to play in respect of conflict resolution, particularly when one considers the various troubles we have experienced throughout our history. The White Paper contains a commitment in respect of developing a distinctive role for Ireland in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution. In that context, I am of the view that the role of the Department's conflict resolution unit can be developed further.
One aspect of this matter in respect of which improvements could be made relates to the identification of priorities within the commitments outlined in the 2006 White Paper. At present, approximately one third of our aid budget goes to EU institutions, and to international institutions like the UN and associated programmes, such as the World Food Programme. As a result of my experience in African countries - particularly Malawi - I am of the view that there must be transparency with regard to where the money goes. During my visit to Malawi, one of the Nordic countries had informed the Government there that it wanted to know where the money it was donating was going. I was told about one possible destination for the money to which I refer but I will not provide information in that regard in the House because it would not be right to do so. There must be accountability in respect of this matter. We should be in a position to know that the money we are donating is going directly to those who require it and that it is not being hived off by certain individuals, either for themselves or to be spent on grandiose projects which do not involve feeding those who are hungry, providing them with electricity or fresh water or seeing to it that they receive an education. The primary mantra at the educational institution I visited in Malawi is to ensure that women are educated in order that they can escape from poverty.
I take this opportunity to wish the Minister of State and his wife, Ms Emer Costello, MEP, continued success. The Minister of State is aware that I am a great admirer of them both.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, and wish him well in his important role. Our purpose today is to obtain statements and inputs from Seanad Members in respect of the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid. I welcome the fact that the White Paper places the fight against world poverty at the heart of Ireland's foreign policy. The Government will demonstrate its commitment to the poorest people of the world by allocating, through Irish Aid, €639 million for the purposes of poverty reduction in the current year.
The programme for Government contains a commitment to review the White Paper. It is timely and appropriate that this is being done now, particularly in light of changing national and international circumstances. As Senators are aware, the Irish Aid programme budget of €639 million is by far the largest component of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade overall budget. In order to ensure that scarce resources are targeted effectively, it is vital that a number of matters should be addressed. These relate to the amount of progress that has been made since 2006, how we propose to manage the aid budget, identifying the key issues which must be dealt with and examining how we can improve the effectiveness of Irish Aid.
The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, of which I am a member, has responsibility for oversight of the policies, administration and expenditure of the Department. The Irish Aid budget forms a significant part of the Department's overall budget. As part of the oversight process, discussions were held with the Tánaiste and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, the UN assistant director general and the EU Commissioner, Ms Kristalina Georgieva, as well as hearings on specific issues such as the food crisis in the Horn of Africa and development challenges in Haiti. The committee also held numerous meetings with departmental officials, NGOs and ambassadors in respect of aid-related topics. A delegation from the committee undertook a field trip to Ethiopia in November 2011 in order to assess the effectiveness on the ground of projects and programmes supported through Irish Aid and its partner organisations.
Some of my colleagues who were on that visit will elaborate on their findings. Significant progress has been made in meeting the commitments in the White Paper on Irish Aid. We should examine some of these as we assess the effectiveness of the Irish Aid budget.
The White Paper states Africa will remain the principle focus for Irish Aid. Between 70% and 80% of the aid programme funding has been directed towards sub-Saharan Africa, one of the highest proportions among OECD donors. A commitment was made to increase the number of partner countries and Malawi was designated Irish Aid's ninth programme country in 2007. However, as the Minister of State said, there is disappointment that we did not add a tenth partnership and that the development bank was not established. A commitment was given to focus on working in fragile states, with programmes developed in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the occupied Palestinian territory. Timor-Leste will continue to be a programme country, despite the fact the Irish Embassy there has been closed for financial reasons. There were commitments in the White Paper to build regional programmes in South-East Asia, southern and west Africa, all of which have been delivered on.
The promotion of human rights, directly and indirectly, is central to Ireland's foreign policy. Irish Aid's expenditure on governance and civil society programmes amounts to 15% of its total budget. In her 2011 report the UN independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty welcomed the strong focus of Irish Aid programmes on social infrastructure and social protection initiatives. Other issues in which we have seen significant progress include placing a greater focus on quality standards through transparency and accountability in its funding mechanism for civil society partners. There has been closer co-operation with UN funds and programmes as we have members and observers on the executive boards of UN programmes. There has been a strong development perspective as a result of Irish Aid, the Department of Finance and our embassies working closely together. The development of the rapid response initiative to respond to sudden emergencies which has been in place for four years, was instrumental in responding to emergencies in Haiti, Pakistan, Liberia, Libya and, recently, the Horn of Africa.
The gender equality programme has now been mainstreamed across all Irish Aid programmes. In addition, expenditure on specific gender initiatives increased from €3.3 million in 2005 to €5.1 million in 2010 in addressing such issues as gender-based violence. Robust oversight systems are in place to protect and account for the spending of Exchequer funds, with rigorous accounting and audit controls involving independent auditors. The Committee of Public Accounts also has a key oversight role.
Irish Aid has honoured its commitment to combat HIV-AIDS and other diseases by spending over €100 million per annum in developing countries, with more than 35% of the total aid budget spent on health education on HIV and AIDS. Investment in water and sanitation measures has been increased significantly since 2006. Irish Aid plays an important role in conflict resolution through the UN's Peacebuilding Commission. The Defence Forces have a peacekeeping role in Lebanon following their two year deployment in Chad. They have also trained Ugandan peacekeepers for deployment in Somalia.
The world is changing and some progress is being made in combating poverty. Aid provision is playing a key part in that progress and must be continued. Global poverty is reducing and the millennium development goal of halving the level by 2015 will, I hope, be achieved. Up to 40 million more children go to school now than in 2000 and health programmes mean 12,000 fewer children die every day. Since 1990, 1.6 billion people have gained access to clean water and the numbers of malaria cases are down by over 50% in 11 African countries. As we review the White Paper, we need to consider some key issues. Up to 1 billion people, one seventh of the world's population, are hungry, while more than 1.5 billion live in countries in which there is serious conflict. There is the negative impact of climate change on poorer people. We must look at governance, accountability, human rights and gender equality issues across the developing world, as well as the involvement of the private sector in advancing innovation, job and wealth creation, thus contributing to poverty reduction.
Looking to the future in these times of economic difficulty, we have a responsibility to ensure maximum benefit for the world's poorest from Exchequer expenditure. We need to place the financing of aid on a more predictable footing. We need to work better with key partners, the nine programme countries, civil society and multilateral organisations. We must ensure Government policies support positive development outcomes and have accountability for development results, with greater public engagement. I welcome the Minister of State's efforts to engage with the public. Ireland should be proud of its reputation as an international aid donor. In a recent opinion poll 85% rated overseas aid as important and very important. In addition to Exchequer funding of €369 million, Irish people contribute significant amounts annually to organisations such as Concern, Trócaire, GOAL, Oxfam and many others. In 2011 Concern alone received almost €37 million in donations for its many projects across the world. It is appropriate to salute the many and wonderful volunteers and missionaries, religious and lay, who do so much every day to improve the lives of the poorest people in the world, often putting their own lives at risk at the same time. We all know such people who deserve our support. The review of the White Paper on Irish Aid will ensure a significant and successful programme will become even more effective in the years ahead in tackling the scourge of hunger and disadvantage in developing countries. I compliment the Minister of State on the work he has done so far. As I said recently in the Seanad, many public servants who took early retirement should be encouraged to share their valuable work experience with others. I hope they could use that experience to help the poorest people in the world.
The Minister of State initiated this review which was part of the programme for Government because of the need to assess the changing context at home and abroad but also to reassess key issues such as hunger, climate change, governance, human rights and gender equality which are impacting on poverty. Over one month ago I had the privilege of attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly meeting in Kampala in Uganda where I saw the excellent work being done by the Irish Embassy, under the leadership of the ambassador, Ms Anne Webster, and the various Irish Aid projects. We were informed this was making an enormous difference in reducing the level of poverty by one half. Recently they have refocused their strategy to concentrate on the northern section of Uganda which has not seen the same level of poverty reduction. The ambassador has indicated to me that there are still significant challenges in Uganda, with an overall inflation rate of 27%, 50% food inflation and high school fees. Even some of her indigenous employees at the embassy are struggling to find the resources to meet the various fees to have their children educated.
In addition to the briefing indicating that the work has had an impact in reducing poverty, we were also provided with a very positive and optimistic assessment in that Uganda is now at a point - and certainly with regard to Ireland's connection to the country - that it may be moving towards important negotiations on trade and not just aid. There has been a recent discovery of oil, which is a major issue. I was struck by the briefing from one of the ambassador's senior civil servants, especially the contention that Uganda is just about to take off, in the context of negotiating with Ireland on trade issues. That is a positive context for our work in the country.
I also understand from my trip and information received since my return that there are a number of legislative proposals coming before the Ugandan Parliament which seek to curtail citizens' human rights, with the chief among these the anti-homosexuality Bill. As the Minister of State is probably aware, there is a growing international moral outrage and concern about the possibility that the Bill, with its punishments of death or life imprisonment for gay relationships, will pass through the Ugandan Parliament. This is its second run as it was stopped before because of international response.
I am pleased to report that some of the other members of the Oireachtas delegation who came with me, particularly Deputies John Lyons and Nicky McFadden, were part of one of the committees of the inter-parliamentary union meeting and wrote a letter to Speaker Kadaga of the Ugandan Parliament, identifying a sense of outrage at what was going on. They asked if she could have any influence in stopping the movement of the Bill through the Ugandan Parliament. We were told by many Ugandans that if the legislation begins its passage, it is more than likely to pass. I have a copy of a letter from Speaker Kadaga in response to the letter written by members of that committee, and she indicates the Bill will be debated in the Ugandan Parliament and it will be up to the members to either pass or reject it.
In light of these developments, can we presume Uganda's aid and trade relations with Ireland would be threatened if this Bill is not revoked? Will the Government be making representations to the Ugandan authorities with regard to that odious legislation? These are key and live questions that will demonstrate the ways in which the White Paper could provide us with some principles to get the balance right in future between aid, trade and human rights.
I thank the Minister of State for his detailed and informative speech today and welcome him to the House. It seems he has been a familiar figure in this Chamber over recent weeks and I look forward to welcoming him back again during this Government's term. More seriously, I am glad to participate in and lead the debate for the Labour group in the Seanad on the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid. I am a fervent supporter of our aid agenda and recognise the important role it plays on humanitarian grounds, as well as the significant part it plays in keeping Ireland's international reputation up with the most benevolent countries. This cannot be underestimated when it comes to building political capital with other countries worldwide and being at the forefront of exploring economic possibilities and opportunities with aid recipient countries.
Ireland's aid programme is different from most others and we have a great approach in that at the heart of our donations is the philosophy that we should teach people how to fish rather than give them fish. This practice has been recognised internationally and we can be justifiably proud that our aid programmes are ranked first on the OECD aid effectiveness rating scale. An essential component in achieving this rank is the direction the 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid has given us. Following the publication of this paper, Ireland's aid programme has become more focused and effective, such that we have become a leader in the fight against global hunger and developed new skills and methods of preventing and responding to humanitarian emergencies. However, we must be mindful that this paper was developed in different times.
In 2006, the Exchequer's till was ringing, with increased revenue every day, but we now find ourselves in a very different economic space. In recent years we have experienced instability in every sense but we are now emerging from the abyss, and in this regard I acknowledge and recognise how difficult it has been for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to make a case for retaining the overseas development aid budget at more than €600 million in the 2012 budget. This is a specific and unique challenge facing the Department, and I commend the Minister and the Minister of State on working in the area in such difficult circumstances. I know there is a determination to meet Ireland's commitment to the UN target for official development assistance of 0.7% of GNP, although there can be no doubt we must systematically review all that is contained in the White Paper to make necessary changes in light of our current budgetary and human resource deficits.
I recognise it is very difficult to make a case to the Irish taxpayer for overseas aid when we have many social and economic problems at home stemming from the demise of the Celtic tiger. The Irish people should be incredibly proud of our achievements and the difference we are making to the lives of thousands of the world's poorest people. On a recent visit as part of the Oireachtas delegation to Ethiopia, I witnessed at first hand the remarkable work being done. Some of the non-governmental organisations I visited worked at the forefront of gender issues, with others educating people to escape the poverty trap through entrepreneurial studies and links with Irish and international universities such as University College Cork. I even spotted an Irish potato on a farm we visited in the Tigray region. All of the agencies are carrying out tremendous work and Ireland can justifiably be very proud for making such an indelible mark on Ethiopian society. Every day our aid is helping to eradicate poverty, assist in building the necessary infrastructure and widen the gap between life and death. I am glad to see our commitment remaining as steadfast as ever in 2012.
Under the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid there are a number of areas where we must focus our efforts if we are to ensure maximum aid effectiveness. In particular, we must ensure more money - or a higher percentage of the aid budget - is diverted to access to adequate water and sanitation facilities. Although Ireland has been to the forefront of ensuring this is a priority, it remains the biggest challenge to aid countries. Furthermore, we must divert more aid funding to bestowing our expertise on governments of aid countries in order that the integrity of our aid programmes can be upheld. We must train, help, advise and assist these countries with capital flight problems and educate people on the systems we have in place in order that there can be no difficulty with the outflow of resources through capital flight, tax evasion and tax avoidance. We must help such nations to be proactive in this regard and, ultimately, help them in helping themselves.
We must recognise that aid is only one part of the solution. In the past year, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade published the Africa strategy, which provides us with new political, development and business possibilities with Africa. Consequently, we must be serious about assisting trade and development in aid countries. In particular, our diplomatic staff, Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Agency have a role to play. We should task them with seeking trade development opportunities in aid programme countries as not only would the benefits be enormous for the aid countries because they could find new markets for goods and produce but we could also benefit in circumstances where the countries could have markets for our produce and goods.
Trade development may not be possible immediately in some countries but we should develop and forge links now. For example, Ethiopia's economy is growing at 8% per annum, and although it is admittedly starting from a very low base, there will be possibilities that will be mutually beneficial in forthcoming years. I suggest a way of fostering such links by engaging in a town twinning procedure between the major urban centres in Ireland and these countries. In the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, the political, economic, social and trading relationships are evolving.
One of the most important features of our overseas development aid is the work done by non-governmental organisations, NGOs. These work hard at fund-raising for very worthwhile causes in many Third World countries, and in many cases the Irish taxpayer contributes to such activities. There is a requirement for greater focus on the achievement of maximum value for money with every cent spent, with an emphasis on accountability and measurable results.
In particular we must insist on these organisations which are funded by the taxpayer providing us with published annual accounts. It is imperative we know exactly what percentage of funding trickles down to the coalface and targets those who need it most, and the sums of money that get caught up in the administrative costs. Essentially I am calling on the Department to embark on and undertake a due diligence procedure on the distribution of funding through these organisations. We must remember we are custodians of public money and have a duty to people to ensure we get value for money in the disbursements to charities. We must move for legislative change in the Charities Act 2009 to give effect to this to ensure we uphold the highest possible standards when it comes to aid effectiveness and distribution.
We must be mindful that this small nation is playing a very significant part in helping achieve the millennium development goal of halving world poverty by 2015. The international aid community has made significant progress in this regard. I know my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins, has alluded to the fact more than 40 million additional children are going to school today than in the year 2000. Health programmes and vaccinations mean that 12,000 fewer people are dying every day. Since 1990, 1.6 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water. Cases of malaria are also down by more than 50% in 11 African countries. It is becoming clear poverty is more persistent and concentrated in particular regions and localities. Sub Saharan Africa continues to bear the greatest poverty burden and it is estimated that by 2030, half of the world's poor will be found there. This statistic is further exacerbated by the expected population increases in some of these countries. For example, it is expected that Ethiopia's population alone will double by 2030. This is an ongoing and developing issue which needs a targeted and measured solution. Admittedly, Ireland faces a significant challenge when it comes to retaining the standards the international community has come to expect from us in development aid.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this issue and I hope the Minister will take on board, some if not all of my submission. It is imperative the international community works together in solidarity to achieve the same goal of eradicating global poverty and resolving the issue of poor governance in some of these countries. It is only through this way that we can move forward.
The Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, is getting fond of Members and comes quite regularly to the Seanad. I am delighted he is wearing his current hat because his words give us confidence that we can achieve far more than we might otherwise have done. A billion people fall asleep hungry every night. That is a major challenge. As Senator Lorraine Higgins has said, while we may argue we are not well off, there is no comparison between what we call poverty and the level of poverty so many in the world experience. I was interested to hear the Minister of State say that between 2005 and 2010, the total number of poor people around the world fell by nearly 500 million and 40 million more children are going to school today than in 2000. To those who argue we are not as well off as we were and do not have the money to spend as we used to, we have a very strong case to make that this is much more important than any poverty experienced in Ireland. Ireland has becomes known internationally as a beacon state when it comes to development aid. As a small country donating very large per capita amounts of development aid, we have encouraged or even embarrassed many other countries into donating aid. I very much support our continuation of our historic role, which has demonstrated we are able to make a difference. Figures released this month by the OECD showed Greece slashed its foreign aid by 39% in 2011, while Spain made a 32% cut last year. Italy and Austria have been singled out by NGOs who say they only give a tiny portion of their incomes in aid. Our Presidency of the European Union starts next January, and there is a debate this week on that issue. Can we use our role, in hosting the Presidency, to leverage the other EU member states to commit to more aid?
Are we focusing development aid in the correct area? It is of great concern on the broader level that according to an European Union parliamentary report, only 46% of the European Union aid meant for developing countries actually goes to low income states, while Turkey, which is relatively rich, is in the top five of recipients of European Commission aid. Surely that is not correct. Can we change that situation during our term of the EU Presidency? How do we properly reconcile this? Some development NGOs say that so-called good aid, such as long-term budgetary support, is the first to go, whereas bad stuff such as trade sweeteners remain. Some countries employ creative definitions of aid, for example, including the cost of repatriating illegal immigrants. Some NGOs fear that European Union aid could drop by as much as one fifth. Will we be using the Presidency to highlight this issue? What is the Minister of State's opinion on providing budget support to developing countries instead of project support? With budget support, donors' funds flow directly into the budget chapters of recipients states and are used for whatever is needed and agreed on by governments and donors. Thus salaries of teachers in Rwanda may be covered by money provided by donors. Supporters of this method say that when budget support is used, transaction costs are low and delivery is highly efficient. I believe we can do something in these areas. We heard a lovely quotation today which was used originally by Oxfam: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." There is much more to this than just giving aid. We must focus on helping them in the long term rather than in the short term.
The Arab spring has highlighted a weakness at the heart of EU foreign policy in that region. How does the European Union combine the promotion of democracy, human rights and engagement in development aid, when certain states in the region have engaged in widespread human rights violations resulting in high levels of poverty and effective dictatorships? Should Ireland push more strongly for disengagement from such countries when violations such as that take place? The UK Government has said it would channel development aid in new directions if recipient governments failed to meet four requirements: reducing poverty, adhering to human rights, demonstrating good financial management and showing accountability to their citizens.
What about countries that violate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, rights? Last year for example, Germany cut aid to Malawi after the country passed law embarrassing homosexuality. Should Ireland be pushing for such a step?
In March 2011, a joint communication from the EU institutions, entitled Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity, declared that the European Union should be ready to offer greater support to those countries ready to work on such a common agenda but also should reconsider support when countries depart from this track. How will this work in practice?
Can we encourage more engagement by business in aid? It is very interesting to consider how the private sector has turned to innovative ways to reach untapped markets. In Kenya and Nigeria, where power outages can last days, Samsung has introduced solar powered mobile phones. Cameroon is on course to overtake Ireland as one of the largest consumers of Guinness. What about diverting aid to help start-up companies in developing countries? In that way aid can become much more sustainable. There seems to be a shift, and over the past decade, multilateral and bilateral development banks have increased their financing of the private sector from €7.5 billion to over €30 billion annually. A recent study by the International Finance Corporation and 30 similar institutions concluded that firms in developing countries need financing to expand their operations as well as needing better infrastructure, improved business regulations and skilled employees. Does it make sense for donor governments to support the public and private sectors in developing countries? Some would say "Yes" since developing institutions are mostly self-funded through using repayments from their investments to support new projects. A great deal has been said about the work done by Irish NGOs. I know about their work in Ethiopia and it has been interesting to hear about them today.
My next comment is about giving a man a fish rather than teaching him to fish. The amount of work that has been done by a number of Irish NGOs in west Africa and Ethiopia is mind boggling. In an area in Ethiopia that is the size of County Louth Irish teams have been operating and they have moved to another area of the same size. They have been able to help a large number of people and taught them how to develop a water system and suitable crops. It is a good example of what can be done. It is private enterprise to a certain extent but it teaches the people how to run their businesses and lives and solve their problems.
Like previous Senators I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I apologise that I may not be here for his response because I must attend a meeting of a committee that he used to chair.
Sinn Féin welcomes the strategy and goal outlined in the White Paper. As has been mentioned previously, Ireland has an honourable tradition of providing aid and development. This week my colleague, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, will launch our response with a paper entitled "Honouring our Legacy." The title sums up what we need to do to continue our honourable tradition of supporting development in the global south. My party respects and supports the Government's courage in not cutting the foreign aid budget but there was a slight decrease from almost 0.6% in 2008 to 0.5% now. We all accept that times are tough but can the Minister of State tell me when we will reach our 0.7% target?
Partner countries also have responsibilities to live up to. For example, India must fulfil its commitment to spend 9% of its country's income on health and education. For overseas aid to be truly effective and sustainable the governments of partner countries must play their part. The difficulties facing NGOs operating in Africa must also be taken on board. Laws restricting the role of civil society should not be allowed hamper aid effectiveness. Irish Aid must reach the grassroots to make an impact and it means supporting business related initiatives such as farmers' groups, women's co-operatives, Fairtrade initiatives and local enterprise development. In reality it means community empowerment.
The question of economy partnership agreements dogs the foreign aid debate. Sinn Féin is clear that EPAs should be about aiding developing partner countries and not the EU's strategic or economic interests. I will take this opportunity to commend the excellent policy work of Trócaire in the sector. We support their recommendations for the global south. They consist of an ethical approach to aid with an ethics charter for Irish businesses overseas and full compliance with the OECD anti-bribery convention.
Gender equality and programmes against gender-based violence are as necessary as ever and direct funding of women's organisations should continue. Human rights must be the thread that runs through all of the work carried out by Irish Aid and coincides with the protection of the natural environment. Foreign acquisition of African lands is a dangerous trend because lands are being used to serve the needs of foreign powers and not the needs of the indigenous population. Irish Aid should not encourage the trend.
I wish to raise the issue of displaced people in Colombia. Any Fairtrade deal with Colombia must not dodge the issue.
We will now take questions and participants will have one minute each in which to ask the Minister of State a question. Ten speakers have indicated that they wish to contribute and they will be followed by the Minister of State's response. If some Members take longer than the one minute allotted then their colleagues will miss out. I will only allow those on my list to speak and I call Senator Heffernan to commence.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish him continued success in his work. As has been mentioned by a couple of previous speakers, human rights issues in African countries like Malawi, Ethiopia and Uganda have been mentioned. I understand that if they receive 10% of their funding from a donor country they will be deemed to be operating illegally in some countries and the focus on human rights might be as we would like it to be. Can he elaborate on NGOs working in those countries, particularly Irish NGOs such as Trócaire, GOAL and Concern?
This morning the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, made an announcement about Shannon Airport. On initial reading it seems to be good news for the mid-west. However, it was proposed that the airport would be a humanitarian aid hub for Ireland and this part of Europe in order to assist in a rapid response to a humanitarian crisis. Can the Minister of State explain the current position?
I welcome the Minister of State and, as other speakers have said, there is no-one more appropriate to hold his portfolio.
I want to raise a number of issues about conditionality as has been mentioned by a number of Senators. I am a little concerned about some of the comments made by the Minister of State and presentations received at committee level. I am concerned that if people are losing their lives due to hunger then we, the EU and the United States, in particular, are in some way inclined to transpose some of our "values" onto them. Can the Minister of State tell me what human rights issues are we raising? Do we oppose some countries because they are trying to impose abortion on some African countries under the guise of population control and as part of their aid provision? We should not do that. We should be hostile to and oppose such a measure.
What trade measures are we taking? There have been significant growth rates in many of the African countries but, as Senator Higgins has said, that is coming from a very low base. What are we doing to achieve sustainable levels, particularly our embassies and Enterprise Ireland? Has Enterprise Ireland a section that promotes trade with Africa? What are we doing to assist countries to export goods?
My final point is about HIV. It is a huge problem in Africa but the number of HIV sufferers in Uganda seems to have been reversed. Last night I spoke to a Christian Brother at a film and he said that AIDS and HIV is a major problem even among the professional classes in Africa. What are we doing to assist those countries to tackle and overcome the problem?
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, agus fáilte romhat a Aire go dtí an Seanad. I shall spend a couple of seconds discussing a country that I am fairly familiar with and has been mentioned here already. The very poor country of Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa because its people are very poor but happy and unfortunately they have few natural resources. The country has been ravaged by the AIDS virus and its middle age population has disappeared leaving many orphans. Its people are anxious to learn and to develop their country. Nigeria is so large that one would not notice the benefit from €10 million but imagine what it would do in Malawi. The same sum would educate all of the children in the northern part of Malawi. I hope its menfolk will forgive me, but if one educates the girls and ladies the country would prosper. My colleague, Senator Mary White, and other Senators and councillors throughout the country have been very active in supporting a project initiated by a colleague of mine, Councillor Peter Savage. When he was chairman of Louth County Council, he initiated a development fund project for Malawi. Many staff members, county councillors, Senators and other colleagues have contributed to the success of the project in the last seven years. Over €400,000 has been collected and sent straight to Malawi. Schools have been built and extended. A new health centre has also been built. Aid workers have been provided with bicycle ambulances, while farming has been developed in some villages. Some of those who know me will be aware that I have had the distinction of having an animal in Malawi named after me.
The project has provided various pieces of farm machinery, including sowing and grinding machines. Water schemes and solar energy systems have been developed in some villages. All of this work has been done voluntarily by Councillor Savage and other councillors in co-operation with the staff of Louth County Council, particularly its management staff. Perhaps the Minister of State might encourage other local authorities to follow the lead of Louth County Council by helping some of the poorest countries in the world. Since Ireland embraced Malawi, it has become a shining light for all other African countries. The work of my colleague, Councillor Savage, and the management and staff of Louth County Council in collecting these moneys has made a major difference to thousands of very poor people. I suggest the Government invite the recently elected President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, to visit this country. I know she would love to do so. I thank the Senators and councillors who have contributed to the fund during the years. I apologise for speaking at such length.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I would like to pick up on what Senator Feargal Quinn said about looking at Irish Aid from a business or value for money perspective. Have the Minister of State and his team considered the possibility of bringing all Irish Aid organisations under a single umbrella? I am aware of the existence of Dóchas. We need to imagine what Irish Aid could do as an umbrella organisation if everybody was involved. When I read through the list of the members of Dóchas, I felt ignorant because I had not heard of many of them. The list includes Action from Ireland, ActionAid Ireland, the Africa Centre, Aidlink, AIDS Partnership for Africa, the Alan Kerins Projects, Amnesty International Ireland, Camara Education, Christian Blind Mission Ireland, the Centre for Global Education, Child Aid Ireland - India, ChildFund Ireland, Children in Crossfire and Christian Aid Ireland. I will not go on, but there are many. The point I am trying to make is that Senator Feargal Quinn's former business or Tesco would not have been able to make savings by buying things through central offices if they had not expanded beyond small individual shops. If we had a beautiful building that acted as a beacon of light - perhaps like the Independent News & Media facility in west Dublin - Europe would know about it.
I join other Senators in speaking with pride about the fact that Ireland is famous for its heart, kindness and gift to these countries. We know we can share education, intelligence and information. That brings me back to the point I made about bodies such as Concern, GOAL, Trócaire and UNICEF being based in a single building and sharing three receptionists. If a delegation was travelling to Ethiopia or Uganda, two people could go instead of ten. We need to reflect on the amount of money spent on advertising during a crisis. I spoke to Deputy Micheál Martin the other day about his appearance on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" following the Asian tsunami. He was confused when an appeal was made to the public because ten numbers appeared on the screen. People did not know whether they should ring Trócaire, GOAL or another organisation. The word "co-opetition" was used when Bord Bia tried to bring various bodies under a single umbrella as part of its efforts to market this country as "Ireland - the Food Island". Is there a way of getting all of these organisations under a single umbrella in order to achieve value for money? I join Senator Lorraine Higgins in emphasising that we do not have a charities regulator and calling for complete transparency and accountability within all organisations.
Perhaps Africa will soon be filled with animals called after the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello. That is something to look forward to. I am aware that the review of the White Paper and the Irish Aid programme is dear to his heart and accept that he is putting a huge effort into it. We welcomed him when he came to Sligo. I join him in paying tribute to Nora Owen for her great work in assisting in this regard.
I would like to pick up on the Minister of State's comment that "the eradication of global hunger is a key component of Ireland's foreign policy and a cornerstone of our development programme." I am particularly delighted that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are co-operating on the African agrifood development fund. I wonder whether the Irish Aid programme will become the Irish food aid programme as we increase our concentration on the eradication of hunger which the Minister of State has described as a cornerstone of our policy. Is that where we are heading, in effect? Would it make more sense for us to use our limited resources in that way, as Senator Lorraine Higgins suggested? The Minister of State has mentioned that times have changed. Senator Mary Ann O'Brien spoke about the need for joined-up thinking in order to achieve value for money, ensure transparency and ease of access. Should we concentrate our efforts on this? I wonder what the Minister of State thinks about making such a change.
Our overseas aid budget is shrinking but our commitment to the European Union is remaining static. We have committed to meeting 1.17% of the cost of the various EU programmes in this area, some of which were discussed at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier. We will pay billions of euro in that way during the period between 2014 and 2020, to which the next tranche of funding will apply. The decrease in our overseas aid budget is affecting the amount of money we are giving to bilateral programmes in our partner countries. I ask the Minister of State to examine two issues in that context. We are borrowing money from one EU institution - the European Central Bank - only to give it back to other EU institutions. Perhaps the interest we are paying on the money we have borrowed and are giving back to EU programmes could be counted as part of our overseas aid budget. We are making interest repayments to these institutions. My main concern is that as the years go by and our overseas aid budget is cut, unfortunately, we will give a greater proportion of our money to the European Union, the United Nations, the IMF and others and a smaller proportion to our partner countries. I ask the Minister of State to address that issue.
I welcome the Minister of State. I was delighted when he was elevated to his current position. He was more than entitled to be promoted.
I would like to ask a specific question about the €639 million Ireland provides in overseas aid each year. Although that is not enough, it is significant nonetheless. How much of this money is given to projects that support people with disabilities in developing countries? We are making progress in ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. When we have ratified it, our responsibility to people with disabilities will not be confined to this country; it will extend to what we are doing with development aid abroad. I would like to see in the White Paper an increased emphasis on supporting projects in developing countries that promote equality and equality of opportunity among people with disabilities. Developing countries, as with others suffering from economic austerity, will be more than challenged in this regard. We can set the agenda by funding projects that benefit the lives of people with disabilities all over the world, especially those in developing countries. This White Paper is timely and welcome and affords us that opportunity. I would like to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on that.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. This has been a very wide-ranging and questioning debate and it has come at an appropriate time. We have just completed the review of the White Paper. The deadline for submissions was the end of last month but the odd one is still being submitted. There are approximately 150 formal written submissions and some have used social media. Many organisations and individuals have made submissions. Today's contribution is very appropriate. Many suggestions have been made and I will try to take as many on board as possible.
It is very heartening to hear the support from all quarters for Irish Aid. We have been asked to reach our targets as quickly as possible. The programme for Government sets an aid target of 0.7% of national income by 2015, which is that of the United Nations and European Union. This is a challenge in the present circumstances. There was a decrease of 30% between 2008 and 2011. This year, we have more or less retained the level of 2011. We must face up to the challenges posed by the budgets in 2013 and 2014 and also face up to our economic circumstances. These are matters we will seek to address in the strongest way possible. It is heartening to hear the support across the board in this regard.
Senator Daly stated we must account for 1.17% of the European Union's funding package. It should be remembered we are still net recipients in the European Union, as farmers are well aware. The cheque still comes in the post in many areas and we have been major beneficiaries. Interestingly, we will probably be making all the major decisions on the multi-annual financial framework next year. This will deal with the disbursal of funding, that is, the EU budget of more than €1 trillion to be disbursed from 2014 to 2020. Within that, approximately 9% is suggested as an increase regarding development aid. The concept of development aid is broader in EU terms than in Irish terms, however. It does not refer only to overseas development aid but also to development aid in the context of the EU neighbourhood policy, which includes Turkey, pre-accession countries and other countries in the vicinity of the Union, particularly to the east. Money is made available in this regard to improve facilities and administration, among other things, and is not limited in the Irish sense.
Human rights featured very strongly in the contributions. Human rights comprise a basic principle for us. All our work on Irish Aid is underpinned by our awareness of human rights. We take the UN charter as a basic starting point in this respect.
Senator Heffernan mentioned the 10% pertaining to Ethiopia. There have been some encroachments in that respect. Non-governmental organisations are now getting squeezed by the legislative provisions being applied in some African countries. The countries' authorities do not wish to see non-governmental organisations being funded by donor countries. Ethiopia, for example, passed legislation called the Charities and Societies Act 2009. Coincidentally, just before I arrived in the House, I met Fr. Hagos Hayish of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia and representatives of Trócaire. The issue to which I refer was raised because severe limitations are being placed on Trócaire and all the other non-governmental organisations operating in the country, such as GOAL and Concern. If they are funded by an outside organisation in the order of more than 10%, it is illegal for them to operate. The authorities are now squeezing the human rights agencies.
Trócaire is a very strong human rights organisation of the Catholic Church. It is being squeezed enormously in Ethiopia because, if more than 10% of its funding comes from external sources, it is told it is operating illegally. This has considerable implications for the operation of non-governmental organisations within a number of countries in Africa. We are working to address this very strongly through the embassies. We are well respected in this regard. When I met the Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Berhane Gebre-Christos, last January, he agreed readily to support Ireland's candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. At the same time, however, Ethiopia had just put in place legislation that is detrimental to human rights. There are very difficult circumstances we try to address as strongly as possible. In Ethiopia, Ireland is the leading donor country in regard to human rights and it is trying to sort out the problem. Similar circumstances obtain in Uganda and Malawi with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, rights. We are very much engaged in those countries internally and with other countries to resolve the issues.
With regard to conflict resolution, it was stated we should be doing more. Of course, we should, but we are very much involved with the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, an international centre for conflict resolution. The OSCE, under the chairmanship of the Tánaiste, has focused very much on conflict resolution as one of its major themes this year.
Accountability is a considerable issue and we are very careful about it. All the money we spend is taxpayers' money and we must be accountable. There are very strict auditing and evaluation measures applied by the Department for which both the Tánaiste and I are responsible. We are responsible for ensuring all the money is spent properly. Our embassies must keep an eye on all the money spent on the ground and we are very careful about this.
We do not give money to corrupt governments. Where money is given, it is on the basis of the observation of the practice of good governance, on which we insist. We give out money on a project-by-project basis. I could refer to some wonderful projects that we fund in their entirety. We give money to departments – for example, an education department – but it is for a particular purpose, such as the provision of teachers and teacher education. This expenditure, while it could feed into a government's budget, is monitored. While we deal with people locally and with projects and local, regional and national government, all the funding is made available under careful supervision by the local embassy. We have an embassy in all our major programme countries. I assure the Senators that our embassies are extremely effective.
A number of Senators, especially Senator Quinn, referred to trade and the changing nature of the countries with which we are engaged. It is important for us to recognise there have been considerable changes in Africa. Senator Higgins stated we expect 50% of the world's poverty will be in sub-Saharan Africa in 2030. This is a significant statistic.
On the other side of the coin, the millennium development goals were established in 2000 for the period up to 2015. The expectation is that by 2015, because a lot of progress has been made, we will have halved the level of world poverty. That represents substantial progress. We are carrying out our own review, which is appropriate, but others are also taking place. Rio+20 is due to take place in June and 50,000 people will attend this gathering to discuss sustainable aid and development. In September 2013 there will be a worldwide review of the millennium development goals and by the end of 2015 there will be a new dispensation. Between now and then there will be a detailed review of the situation to see where we are going. For that reason, it is important to look at emerging countries and those countries where we have programmes. We have developed a new strategy, the Africa strategy, to look at how we can complement what we are doing with Irish Aid through the promotion of Irish trade by bringing the private sector into the equation and the Irish development agencies into play, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Glanbia. We are bringing them in to obtain advice, while encouraging the private sector to get involved in business and investment in Africa.
On HIV-AIDS, we were one of the major players in the global forum on HIV. We put €9 million into that programme annually. It has effected considerable change in most African countries, with considerable reductions in the incidence of HIV-AIDS in most countries through greater access to better vaccines.
We do not want to approach the trade issue in the way suggested by Senator Feargal Quinn, whereby we would replace some of our aid with grants in promoting trade. We will do it in kind; we will retain our aid programme and not make it conditional in any way, but we will also provide assistance and expertise for the private sector through our embassies. There is now a team in each of the embassies in Africa which focuses on trade. Using our reputation gained through our missionaries and Irish Aid opens a lot of doors. Enterprise Ireland also has a base in South Africa from which it will feed into other African countries.
Eventually we will have to look for an exit strategy from all countries. We do not intend to go around in circles in providing aid, unless we are moving forward, and the best way to do this is to see how a country can become self-sufficient. That is a major part of the way we are looking at things.
A specific question was asked about the Shannon hub, at which we are looking closely. It is included in the programme for Government that we will establish a humanitarian hub in Shannon for the containment and dispersal of humanitarian aid. We have Irish Aid supplies located at hubs throughout the world. Only the United Nations can provide these hubs; the European Union does not have any. Arising from the Lisbon treaty which places a specific legal responsibility on the European Union to deal with humanitarian and development aid, there are two Commissioners dealing with these issues, Commissioner Georgieva who is responsible for aid matters and Commissioner Piebalgs who is responsible for development matters. We are anxious to put the case to the European Union that the renewed focus on the provision of humanitarian aid means it should have its own hub and that Shannon is the ideal location for it. I am establishing a feasibility study and have had tenders submitted which will be approved by the end of the month. There will then be 60 days in which to issue a report. We then hope to make progress. I have spoken to Commissioner Georgieva about the matter and she is sympathetic.
We deal with the issue of disabilities in dealing with the provision of aid in poor countries. It is something on which we will work for the review. We have our homework to do in Ireland because we have not yet ratified the UN Convention on Disabilities. Until we do so, we are not in a position to lecture anyone. This should be done before the end of the year; legislation is being brought forward on the topic. The issue should be a focus of the review because people who are impoverished are at a disadvantage, but those with physical and other disabilities are disadvantaged further.
Senator Susan O'Keeffe asked about the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We have taken an initiative in conjunction with that Department in which we are focusing on two countries, Tanzania and Kenya, in a pilot scheme. In all areas of Africa agriculture is a key sector. As there has been little development, there is little industrial activity. By and large, societies are mainly rural; therefore, we are bringing to bear in these countries expertise from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to provide for the best quality production, regulation and marketability of products. The first trip took place two weeks ago. The people from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are starting work on this initiative to ensure products are made to the highest quality and can be marketed globally, with processing taking place in these countries to ensure added value. We are also looking at this initiative in the context of other Departments also. Every Department has something to say and there is now an interdepartmental body in which all Departments come together. I chair its meetings.
We had the first meeting recently and are examining how each Department can contribute to what Irish Aid is doing in order that we can adopt a whole country approach rather than a single Department approach. The Department for Finance, for example, can provide expertise on tax and revenue matters, anti-corruption measures and so on. We can go further down the road and adopt a more holistic approach. These are issues that have been thrown up in our discussions, which we will consider carefully.
The debate and the questions posed have been fascinating and interesting. If Members have something further to add, I am more than willing to listen to suggestions. I thank them for what has been a positive and enlightened discussion. I look forward to returning to the House to discuss the report and establish whether Members think it is worthwhile, whether we have made good progress and whether we are moving in the right direction.
I thank the Minister of State for outlining his views on the White Paper. I apologise for not being present earlier, but I had to attend another meeting, although I watched and listened to some of his contribution on a monitor. Will he elaborate on the process to establish the Shannon hub? It was announced earlier that Shannon Airport had achieved independence from the DAA. Will that have a bearing on the hub? With regard to the request made to the European Union, is Ireland in competition to provide such a hub? Is funding available from the Union to establish it? If it is established, it will be a great achievement for Ireland in the context of our punching above our weight in the provision of ODA.
I thank the Minister for State for attending. I apologise that I had to leave the House for some of the debate, but I also had to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
The Minister of State referred to the new Africa agrifood development fund and the practical efforts being made by his Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, specifically in Tanzania and Kenya. Has he examples of this co-operation?
The review of the millennium development goals is due to be undertaken in September 2013. Will more ambitious goals be set or, in the light of world economic conditions, will it be more of a holding operation, with the new goals to come into effect in 2016?
The establishment of the Shannon hub forms part of the programme of Government and, therefore, the Government is committed to pursuing it. I have asked for a feasibility study to be undertaken to progress it. The tenders are in and it will take approximately two months to come up with the report. Those involved will consult widely, including with those in the new set-up at Shannon Airport when the proposed changes are implemented. For a long time the airport's administrators have sought independence in order that they can develop more freely. I met them during the discussions on the hub and they are anxious that the project be undertaken to enhance the capacity of the area. The airport has the capacity to take aircraft of all sizes and has significant depot facilities and so on.
It is too early to say what the response of the European Union will be in the context of funding or otherwise. We will make a formal proposal to it when it is ready. I have spoken to Commissioner Andris Piebalgs who is awaiting our proposal. The initial discussions were cordial on the Union having its own hub where other member states as well as Ireland could locate humanitarian aid, including food supplies, tents, vaccines and so on, to be quickly transported to disaster zones, as needed. It is a good idea; Shannon Airport would be an ideal location for such a European hub.
It is early days so far as the agricultural fund is concerned. Officials are engaged in more of a scoping examination initially to establish the areas on which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine can liaise with the agriculture Departments in Tanzania and Kenya to examine agricultural issues, methods and the potential for growth. The idea is to work on these issues and assist these countries to grow and process food to the standard necessary for it to be exported to the EU market. Kenya, for example, is a major producer of coffee, but all of the processing is done in South Africa. In terms of added value, it is packaged, processed and sold through South Africa, rather than Kenya. This needs to change if an economy is to be developed in Kenya and the same applies to Tanzania. This could be quickly replicated in every African country if we had the resources and could encourage them to do so. We have high quality programmes which are more about quality than quantity. A good quality programme could be replicated easily without having to spend a significant amount. The same would be true if we could encourage other Departments to shadow and liaise with their counterparts in Kenya and Tanzania to provide the benefit of their experience to ensure a pragmatic relationship between the various Departments. This could prove enormously beneficial in dealing with issues of aid, good governance and administration but also in dealing with trade, development and investment matters down the road. Some of these countries could do with our expertise.
The millennium development goals will be reviewed in September 2013. A lot of water will pass under the bridge before 2016 when the new goals will be implemented. Much of our current thinking will feed into this because we will have the benefit from the outset of the review process of having completred our own review. We should, therefore, be reasonably creative with our proposals because we undertook a wide consultation process, involving all of the stakeholders. It is too early to say in what direction the review will move, but this is an exciting period. It is only the beginning of the review of overseas development aid which will take place all over the world. Fortunately or otherwise, we are the first to start down that road; therefore, we will be able to feed into the reviews of other countries.
I again refer to the suggestion the Government should invite the newly elected President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, to Ireland. She is appreciative of the aid provided by Ireland and, in particular, the voluntary committee established by the former chairman of Louth County Council. It is a good story and the committee has made a significant contribution to the development of Malawi.
I put my question to the Minister of State in committee as well. The issue engages me because of what some countries are doing. Where do we stand on imposing abortion? This is carried out especially by the USA, where there is a strong abortion industry, in some of these African countries. What is Ireland's position on the matter?
The Minister of State remarked that our embassies will play a role in developing trade with African countries. What about Enterprise Ireland? Do we need a separate section to drive trade with these countries? Years ago An Bord Tráchtála assisted small and medium-sized enterprises that did not have the capacity to market their products in these countries. Is there some mechanism whereby the State could become involved to address this lacuna and encourage the development of trade in areas which would otherwise be inaccessible by small companies? It would be a positive development if we could assist in this way.
Senator Brennan made a point about President Banda. I do not see why we could not invite her. She has a good track record and has been a strong human rights activist in the past. Two months ago I was in Malawi where there are human rights problems but I believe she will do a good deal. She has already stated that she will address these issues.
I should have referred to that matter and to the good work being done by Louth County Council. It is something we do not always hear much about. Many county councils and groups work quietly without any fanfare away from the public eye. They carry out tremendous work. Senator Brennan noted that €400,000 has been given by Louth County Council towards education. Many county councils are engaged with individual projects in individuals countries. This could be encouraged in all local authorities throughout the country. They could twin with another town or get involved in a project. That would be interesting. We will take all of that on board as part of the review of the White Paper.
Senator Walsh asked a question about abortion. We are not involved in any way in respect of abortion, as Senator Walsh knows well. Our country's position is clear in this respect. We are involved in upholding human rights and the dignity of the person. One cannot be involved in trying to help the poorest of the poor without having respect for the person and his or her dignity. From this point of view, human rights must be central to what we are doing. We are supportive of human rights across the board. The Charter of the United Nations is our starting point as well as the various United Nations conventions. We have made this clear from the beginning everywhere we go. This is one of the things encountered by Ministers not only in Irish Aid countries but in other countries throughout the world. It is one element of our agenda if countries are infringing human rights and we always articulate it. Sometimes this approach is not well liked. I recall the first three quarters of an hour with the receiving Minister for Foreign Affairs during the visit to Malawi. We almost had a showdown on human rights and some of the legislation passed there. I will not go through the agenda but eventually we came round to what we had done in Ireland to address some of the issues. He was very pleased to hear about some of our work. I promised to send him some statistics from Dáil and Seanad debates and he was pleased to get these. I am unsure whether he is still a Minister following the change in Government.
No, that issue did not come up. I do not believe that is an issue in Malawi. One issue raised was the fact that in 2010 Malawi passed a Bill making lesbianism illegal. They passed the legislation because they already had an Act which made homosexuality illegal and they sought to provide equality in respect of making female homosexuality illegal as well. We explained to the Minister the manner we decriminalised homosexuality, the degree of opposition faced and how far we have come in the space of two decades in recognising this human right for the person. He was prepared to take it but only after he had seen the pragmatic side and the way another country addressed the matter in that fashion. The idea in theory was that they were giving equality in reverse.
A question was asked about what we can do to encourage trade. We are very much involved in this at present. Enterprise Ireland has been put on notice about our engagement in Africa. Enterprise Ireland established its office in South Africa only recently. There may well be another office established in the not too distant future in one or more areas further north in Africa. The relevant countries have been informed by our embassies that advice is available from our State agencies about trade and investment and that we can conduct business in various forms. We can do it through video-conferencing. That is one way. It can also be done by going directly through our embassies and getting the materials and doing a video conference in our embassy with the various State agencies. These meetings are used to discuss best practice in dealing with trade matters and so on. Those interested in Africa in our private sector are informed as well. A large number of Irish companies have expressed an interest and are involved, and new companies have expressed an interest as well. They are being given all the advice and assistance possible. The only thing we are not doing is giving them Irish Aid money for trade grants. That remains ring-fenced for aid. I believe we will continue to operate as we are at present in sub-Saharan Africa in the areas that are the poorest in the world. I believe this is what the Irish people want us to do for the future.