Thursday, 6 February 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
17. Mr. R. Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on any proposal which would aim to cancel, by the year 2000, the debts owed to first world countries by lessdeveloped countries; the steps, if any, he will take if he views any such proposal positively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3216/97]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): The Government is deeply concerned about the debt problem of the poorest and least developed countries and the serious constraint it imposes on their economic and social development. We have consistently used the relevant international fora to emphasise the need to find ways to address the debt problems of the least developed countries and to indicate our openness to innovative solutions. In his address to the World Social Summit in Copenhagen in March 1995, the Taoiseach called for a fresh approach to debt issues and the consideration of all options, including debt cancellation. In addition the Minister for Finance, as Ireland's representative on the board of governors of the World Bank and the IMF, has consistently highlighted the situation  of the most severely indebted countries and has pressed the case for significant alleviation of the debt burden of the developing countries.
There is now a growing sensitivity at the international level to the debt in the developing countries and a general recognition and acceptance that it is essential to make serious in roads into the problem of excessive debt burdens. The debt initiative for highly indebted poor countries, the so-called HIPC Initiative which was agreed at the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank last October, represents a significant step forward in the international community's response to the debt problem of the most indebted countries. The HIPC Initiative is designed to relieve the debts of as many as 20 poor countries, most of them in Africa. It is intended to help reduce their debts down to sustainable levels in the interests of their economic and social development. It is comprehensive in nature in that all creditors, including multilateral financial institutions as well as bilateral and commercial creditors, are expected to meet their share of the necessary debt reduction of eligible countries' debt. As part of the HIPC Initiative, the Paris Club of bilateral creditor countries has agreed on its part to write off up to 80 per cent of eligible debt owed by lowincome countries on a case-by-case basis, compared to 67 per cent currently available under the so-called Naples terms. The initiative can produce significant debt relief for severely indebted countries and should be given an opportunity to work.
The Deputy will appreciate that Ireland, as a non-creditor country, is not directly party to the debt problem and is not in a position itself to give a lead in the area of debt cancellation. However, we will continue to use our influence to press for a just and comprehensive long-term solution to the debt problem in the developing world and would be prepared to give positive consideration to any proposals aimed at achieving that, including proposals involving debt cancellation.
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