Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan): For a number of reasons, 2005 was a vital year for development. The donor community committed itself as never before to a massive scaling up of aid, partner countries to the Paris declaration agreed on a set of aims and principles to make aid more effective and donors agreed to put the plight of Africa at the forefront of development efforts.
EU leadership was the motor driving this major mobilization of the international community towards the achievement of the millennium development goals, which aim to halve world poverty by 2015. In May 2005, development Ministers mapped out a timetable for member states to achieve the 0.7% target by 2015, including an interim target of 0.56% by 2010. Ireland is committed to reaching the 0.7% target by 2012 and is on track to do so. I have described the timeframe in this House as realistic and achievable and I am confident it will be met. We are well above the less familiar UN target of 0.15% for aid to least developed countries as a percentage of gross national income. Arguably, this is a better benchmark for the focus on poverty of our overseas development assistance policies.
Last year, in order to make its aid more effective and responsive to the concerns of its partners, the EU launched a major new development co-operation initiative, the European consensus for development. This initiative commits the main institutions of the EU to the same set of basic principles and values in the field of development co-operation. These principles include poverty reduction, partnership and country ownership, human rights, peace, democracy and good governance.
Proper governance will determine whether the increased levels of aid will be effective in the long run. The stress on democracy and governance at EU level is reflected in our bilateral programmes. Support for good governance is a major priority area of expenditure in Ireland’s development co-operation programme and includes assistance for building democratic systems of government which are underpinned by free and fair elections.
I have already pointed out that 2005 was notable for the focus given to the special plight of Africa. This initiative was also driven by EU leadership because not only did the EU pledge half of its increased aid volumes to that continent, it also agreed on a long-term framework for its relationship with Africa. This new strategy for Africa was adopted by the European Council last December after extensive preparatory work between the EU and African regional organisations. It provides a comprehensive and long-term framework for EU relations with Africa. In addition to support for national plans for economic growth and poverty reduction, the strategy will promote African leadership on peace and security issues. A key component of this is the EU’s African peace facility, which has already proven to be an effective mechanism for delivering peace support on the African continent.
Last year, I launched an Irish Aid capacity building programme for the ten new EU member states, the object of which is to share Irish Aid’s experiences in building its own programmes over the past 30 years. As part of the mentoring programme, delegations from the new member states visit Dublin for an intensive series of seminars on different aspects of Ireland’s aid operations. The fact they are keen to learn from Ireland is a tribute to the Members of this House and the previous holders of my office. Irish Aid is recognised as a success story at EU and world levels.
Trade has the potential to lift millions out of poverty. Last December, I spoke in the Dáil about the EU’s expectations for the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in the area of trade and development. EU leadership was crucial to securing a strong development package in Hong Kong. In particular, Ministers agreed that all developed countries, as well as developing countries in a position to do so, would extend duty and quota free access to 97% of imports from least developed countries. Ministers also made decisions on cotton, TRIPS and aid for trade which will address some of the pressing concerns of least developed and low income countries. In parallel with the WTO negotiations, the EU is negotiating economic partnership agreements, EPAs, with six regional groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The EU Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson, has stressed that EPAs will be geared toward south-south economic integration, with an emphasis on market building within the ACP. Trade liberalisation will be gradual and will flow from the agreements.
I value the support and solidarity given by Members of the Oireachtas to the work of Irish Aid and set great store by their continued attention to various aspects of our bilateral aid programmes. This parliamentary engagement brings many benefits. It helps to create public support for development and poverty reduction and holds the Government to account for the commitments it makes. As we expand our enormous and well regarded Irish Aid programmes, we need closer and better parliamentary scrutiny of our efforts. Informed parliamentary scrutiny of development policies ensures the most effective use of the unprecedented level of resources being made available for poverty reduction in the poorest countries and amongst the poorest people.
In the context of a rapid expansion in overseas aid, I welcome the views of the Oireachtas committee and of Members in general on how their involvement with Irish Aid might be deepened. We should continue to discharge this responsibility in a spirit of common purpose. All Members of this House and, in particular, those with former ministerial responsibility for development assistance have made enormous contributions to the building of an aid programme which is the envy of many other donor countries. The programme we have built brings credit to this country. Per capita, Ireland is now the world’s tenth largest donor of overseas aid. The OECD, in its peer group review, praised our aid programme by putting it at the cutting edge of development policy. Action Aid, an independent NGO based in London, stated that Ireland’s aid programme is of the highest quality. In its examination of the efforts of various donors, it made a unique distinction between phantom and real aid. Ireland has a reputation for delivering real aid which is of real benefit to really poor people.
Mr. Allen: I thank the Minister of State for his contribution but, while his statement contained a bit of self-praising propaganda regarding Irish development assistance targets, he neglected to note that these targets fall far short of the commitment given by the Taoiseach at the millennium summit in 2000. The poor of this world will have to wait many more years before they receive effective aid.
Much of our business with the Minister of State can be conducted through the committees on foreign affairs and european affairs, so I want to use this debate as a vehicle to ask the questions the public would like us to raise. Before I do so, however, I call on the Minister of State to bring us up to date on the biggest threat to Ireland’s development assistance programme, namely his hamfisted attempts to force through the decentralisation programme, thereby threatening the institutional memory of Irish Aid.
I also raised the question of the development fund for Iraq and the misappropriation of massive amounts of money in Iraq therefrom. What has happened, what investigations have taken place and what questions has the Government asked about these allegations? This money was earmarked for the Iraqi people but it seems to have gone into the pockets of well-placed contacts of political figures.
The other issue about which I wish to inquire is the decision made at European level to stop humanitarian funding to the Palestinian Authority. This was raised earlier and will be raised again. Was Ireland a party to that appalling decision and would it be possible to have some transparency in respect of it?
I will use the remainder of the time available to pose some of the questions that have been coming through to us on the EU and the developing world and I will give the Minister the opportunity to prepare answers. Why, somebody asks, does the Commission continue to pursue aggressive trade tactics at the WTO and through economic partnership agreements to open up developing countries despite its commitment to use trade to enhance development?
Mr. Allen: I refer to question No. 3 on the EU and the developing world and I will not read it in its entirety. It includes the following sentence, “If Europe is to be a ‘responsible’ player on the world stage, the evolution of its policies as they affect developing countries in particular, is of crucial significance.” I ask that the Minister of State give a detailed response to that important question because a well-informed person has gone to much trouble to submit it and it is important we get a response on the record of the House.
Mr. Allen: Could the Minister respond to the question on EU financial perspectives? I do not ask because it arose from Deputy Gay Mitchell’s report on the development co-operation and economic co-operation instrument, DCECI.
Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter. I wish to put some questions to the Minister of State. While I have wished him well in all of his endeavours to date, some conclusions might be drawn from an earlier presentation that affect what has been said on one of the topics with which he is dealing, namely, the resumed WTO talks. The latter have been described by some of the NGOs that will be represented at the talks as taking place on the eve of a disaster. Although the meeting in Hong Kong produced a better offer for most of the developing countries than the one made at Cancún, it is regarded by every NGO dealing with trade as far short of what is needed. For example, while we have heard in this debate about the elimination of export subsidies for agricultural products, they comprise approximately 3.7% of the EU basic activity and, therefore, we must be vigilant in all the other areas. I do not have time to go into detail but we can deal with particular questions later. On the demands for flexibility and access to markets and services, what has been offered on agriculture in the developing world is perceived as minimal. That creates an issue.
It is time that some hard evidence was provided in respect of the millennium development goals. Time is running out. It should be stated publicly in parliaments that the budget for the response to the AIDS crisis in Africa has not been met by the countries that committed to it. Neither the amount pledged nor that delivered approach what is required to make significant progress. I do not have the detailed figures but I think the highest point funding reached was 40% of what was required to achieve the goal. We need reports on the progress of the millennium goals. There is evidence that few of the goals will be met on the continent of Africa. That creates a crisis and there is no point stating otherwise. The 110 that came together to extract a slightly better package in Hong Kong than they had in Cancún are likely to conclude that they will do better on trade by delaying an agreement rather than by accepting what is on offer.
I cannot understand why the name of Irish Aid has changed again. What was wrong with the original name? I am weary of being unable to answer queries on how individuals might take part, as competent persons, in volunteering or working in different parts of the developing world. These questions have been submitted to me by fine people who, or whose friends, have given fine service abroad for APSO. It is difficult to get a straight answer in respect of this matter, which is not to be disposed of by saying that we like to pass on responsibility for the various projects to local people. The latter is an approach that I support.
I was interested in the Minister of State’s combination of human rights and their integration into the development project. Following the election of Hamas in Palestine, Ramallah is besieged with development workers. When I was there last year, one could hardly move without bumping into such individuals. They ask why the EU, which like the Minister of State, talks about human rights, refuses to address the illegality of the occupation. Development work is carried out in an atmosphere in which it will always involve responding to victims and will never be about basic rights and the need to address difficult situations. The situation is not assisted by the actions of Hamas, although it must be remembered that elections took place. Why are EU governments silent on the simple illegality of occupation and the expansion of Jerusalem, which has been expanded by an area one and a half times the size of Paris?
On the Minister of State’s reference to the EPA negotiations between the EU and developing countries, in many cases the EU was seeking more than originally envisaged. That approach was rejected in the initial WTO talks. The developing countries, particularly those in Africa, sought time, flexibility and exemptions for developments they wished to provide by way of universal availability, such as those in the area of education. We heard today that anything conceded in agriculture will come about at the price of concessions on services and being obliged to open markets quickly. That starkly contradicts what was offered by the EU Development Ministers and what the Minister of State said. His contribution contained the suggestion that there will be an opportunity for countries to be flexible and respond slowly to their markets. That is not what the Commissioner stated. The NAMA condition is a fundamental demand concerning the reciprocity the Commission is seeking from developing countries. It is unreal and will lead to the rejection and failure of the talks, and rightly so, because no developing country could accept it as it stands.
There is a raft of other issues I could discuss. I welcome the expansion of our aid and also the thinking of the European Union. However, its thinking on Doha and Palestine and its silence in the international legal atmosphere in which it is working is quite appalling. The European Union has no credibility among those who are seriously concerned about justice and law in the Middle East. The volume of the Union’s money is welcome, as are its development workers, but its silence and disgraceful following of the United States in removing aid from the Palestinian people will be long-remembered, and rightly so.
Mr. F. McGrath: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to make a short contribution to this debate on aid and the developing world. Ireland has a moral duty to assist the poorer countries of the developing world, particularly those in Africa. When engaging in development projects, we have a great responsibility to ensure that those distributing aid are of the highest calibre. It saddened, annoyed and hurt me in recent days to hear that child abuse and sexual exploitation are being carried out by certain elements of the aid community. It is a scandal that very poor young girls of 13, 14 and 15 in a country ravaged by conflict are being exploited by people sent to help them. This abuse should always be challenged and we should all speak out against it. I demand a reaction and a proper vetting system for those involved in aid distribution.
Bearing in mind our history, including the advent of the Famine and the impact of imperialism on this island, we should instinctively be on the side of poorer countries. I urge the European Union to become more involved and to be proactive. Some EU countries have had a very bad relationship with Africa historically. The Belgians, French, Spanish and British had colonies in Africa and they have a responsibility to combat exploitation.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the work he is doing to address these issues. Although we have not reached the aid target of 0.7%, much work has been done. This work must continue and be developed.
Mr. Boyle: We need to examine the role of the EU in respect of the developing world. Disappointment must be expressed at the collective role of EU member states in meeting their millennium development goals, which will not be achieved. Ireland has failed to protest against this and has not met its own goals. The reality is that, in many respects, there is no common EU standard of aid. The aid and trade issue is not being addressed. Many EU countries export military hardware to developing countries, which become inflamed and whose misery and poverty become entrenched as a consequence. Ireland, because of its history, should be more trenchant within the European Union to ensure that more coherent and consistent policies are developed in this area.
The main point I want to make concerns the role of the European Union in respect of Palestine, as mentioned by Deputy Michael D. Higgins. I refer not only to the Union’s failure to protest against the occupation of Palestine but also to its failure to protest when the infrastructure of that country, in which it invested, was destroyed in the name of the security of another country. My party and I protest at the European Union’s current policy of withholding money from Palestine, notwithstanding the difficulties the Hamas movement poses for many in this part of the world. The people suffering from this policy are individual Palestinians. The failure to provide resources and the shortage of medical supplies will ultimately increase fundamentalism, fanaticism and military and terrorist activity in the Middle East. Ireland, as a member of the European Union, should take no great pride in this policy, which is wrong and dangerous.
Mr. Morgan: As I have a farcically short time in which to address the issue of Europe and the developing world, I will confine my comments to the role the European Union must play in challenging the malign influence of the international financial institutions in developing countries. I agree, in particular, with the comments of the previous three speakers.
The plight of developing countries has been demonstrably aggravated by the policies and actions pursued by the IMF and the World Bank. These organisations pursue neoliberal and free market policies that take no account whatsoever of the social and human costs to developing countries. Their policies in recent decades have contributed to the overwhelming burden of debt under which developing countries toil.
Voting rights in the IMF and the World Bank are stacked in favour of the developed states, particularly the USA, and against developing countries. The selection procedures for IMF and World Bank leaders are totally undemocratic. These institutions are little more than sophisticated tools of modern imperialism. The European Union must take a lead role in pushing for the abolition of the World Bank and the IMF and, importantly, for the creation of new financial instruments under the control of a democratised UN.
The European Union must also use its position of power and influence to advance the demand for the immediate abolition of the IMF-imposed structural adjustment programmes, which force Governments in developing countries to open up their states’ economies to export more and spend less, thus reducing public spending drastically, cutting social budgets in areas such as health, education, housing and infrastructure, and ending subsidies on products and services of primary necessity. The so-called structural adjustment programmes have had drastic consequences for local populations in the affected countries because living conditions have deteriorated substantially since their introduction.
Ms O’Donnell: I welcome the Minister of State and his initiative to build capacity and help states that have recently acceded to the Union to build their own overseas development programmes. Using Ireland as a mentor is a very good initiative.
I wish to raise two points, the first of which concerns conditionality and aid. As we all know, this issue can pose real dilemmas for donor states such as Ireland. Perhaps the problem is most acute in the occupied territories in Palestine. Will the Minister of State outline clearly to interested Members the position of Ireland and the EU, as part of the Quartet, in regard to the suspension of aid? This poses a dilemma for those of us who are extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. There is deepening poverty in the occupied territories and the population there faces a possible collapse of infrastructure and of the institutions of the fledgling state. Will the Minister of State outline the threat this poses to the vision of having two viable states, namely, Palestine and Israel? How has Ireland articulated its position on this matter internationally? Is it appropriate that we should abandon the Palestinian people through the suspension of aid to the extent that millions of people will suffer from food shortages and a lack of basic services, sanitation, water, etc.?
I wish to raise a matter of a more domestic nature that is of concern to Members of the House. Self Help, a long-standing partner organisation of the Irish Government in its overseas development programme, has unfortunately become embroiled in a controversy concerning the proportion of its public funding that has been spent on promotion and administration in Ireland rather than on projects for the needy in Africa, as was intended.
Mr. C. Lenihan: Deputy O’Donnell’s question on Ireland’s position on Palestine is serious. I made Ireland’s position clear in the Seanad recently and will give a longer answer on the Adjournment. Ireland favours the continuation of aid to the Palestinian people rather than interruptions to that aid. However, Ireland, along with the EU, expresses deep reservations about the recognition of Israel and the principle of non-violence. Along with the Quartet, Ireland is monitoring the situation but Irish aid to Palestine will continue. We spend €4.5 million at present and are examining ways of ring-fencing funding to help the poverty stricken people in their great difficulty. Our programme focuses on helping people out of poverty. If there are problems with institutions or administrations in Palestine or in Africa, it is our policy to remain engaged and identify ways in which we can give aid without Irish taxpayers’ money being construed as assisting terrorists. We will remain engaged but we must examine the modality of how aid is delivered. We provide assistance to the Palestinian delegation in Ireland, predicated on support for President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Deasy: Regarding the decision of EU Foreign Ministers to withhold further payments to Palestine following the recent elections, who voted for the payments to stop and who voted against it? How was the decision made, by a simple majority or a three quarters majority?
Mr. C. Lenihan: I am not in a position to answer because I did not attend the meeting. Funding has been suspended for good reasons and yesterday the Quartet indicated that agreement has been reached to support a temporary mechanism for direct delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people.
Mr. C. Lenihan: A suspension does not provide a resolution to this issue but humanitarian and poverty focused assistance can now be delivered to the people. That is the key point rather than the theology of the issue.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I refer to Deputy O’Donnell’s question about Self Help, a Carlow-based NGO that receives multi-annual funding from my Department. Some issues have been raised regarding the charity and, from my investigations, it appears the matter is a power control issue within the charity. Different members of the board have differing views and I have asked my officials to investigate and produce a report. Reports in newspapers are vague but I am told informally that financial irregularity is not the subject of the controversy. The conflict appears to be centred on administrative costs but I assure the Deputy that none of the money provided by Irish Aid is in any way affected by administrative costs.
Mr. C. Lenihan: The most senior official in the Irish Aid section will speak to officials from Self Help next week. The money we deploy cannot be misused for administrative costs because we control the amount that can be apportioned to such costs.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister of State. Today is Europe Day and European aid should be emphasised instead of the good story of Irish aid. The biggest donor of international aid, up to 80%, is the EU.
Mr. Quinn: This story is not told. Americans parade themselves as great benefactors but contribute tied aid and armaments. Young people may not be interested in domestic issues but every Member knows they have not lost the sense of passion about politics. Bob Geldof and the Make Poverty History campaign have mobilised young people on the question of global equity and justice. The major hero in this story is the EU, along with Ireland.
I have monitored a number of elections in Africa and have been involved in politics in Namibia, South Africa and Niger. The bulk of European aid in Africa over the past 30 years has been wasted and much of it has been transferred to Swiss banks.
Unless we deal with the problem of corruption in Africa we will not solve the problem of poverty. The Irish Aid programme should have a democracy building capacity as an integral part of the aid programme. Would the Minister of State consider the models that can allow this to take place? One option is the British model, the Westminster fund, where political parties can apply to fund programmes with international sister parties. Another is the US model, where individual political parties can establish foundations. Civil servants cannot teach political parties to run smart, clean machines. They have other skills.
Mr. C. Lenihan: Deputy Quinn’s suggestion is a fine one and I challenge the Members to devise a mechanism to exploit the undoubted talent within the Oireachtas. I refer to Deputies, Senators and those who work for political parties. These people have skills that could be used to in our aid programme. I would like a foundation entitled “The Oireachtas Foundation” to facilitate this and seek contributions from donors, as other countries have done. Now, because of affluence, we in Ireland have the capacity to do that. I recently read in The Economist that, on an international index, we are insufficiently provided with institutes and think-tanks of that kind. It is very important that it now start, and there is no better place than the Oireachtas.
I am not convinced the bulk of European aid has been wasted over the years, but we are all very open regarding the fact that a great deal of aid generally has been wasted over the last 20 or 30 years. A great deal was corrupted in a moral sense because of the Cold War conflict. In other words, aid was applied for the wrong purposes. I believe that Deputy Boyle referred to people adopting the sleazy agenda of supplying military hardware or political advice that was rather dubious in its strategic nature and make-up. We in Ireland are lucky enough, in that our hands are clean. The aid we provide is healthy and untied and not linked to the purchase of Irish commercial services.
On the wider issue of European aid, it is true that for years it has not been the most efficient; let us be honest about it. There is now a process of tightening up, and last year saw the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. It would be criminal for what I have described as the donor world, of which we are a leading part, to increase the scale of aid and assistance without addressing corruption, governance and the effectiveness of our actions. There will be great pressure for rationalisation between donors, and we will very much be part and parcel of it. That was among the reasons I set up a mentoring initiative. We must learn in advance of very significant rationalisation and the removal of duplication in the efforts of various countries that donate to the developing world.
Regarding the untold story of European aid, I wholeheartedly agree it is very appropriate on Europe Day that we state this very clearly. Some 60% of the increased aid flows coming as a result of the momentous development in 2000 are from the European Union and its donors. They are not coming from the G8 or elsewhere. Together with many other Ministers with responsibility for development, I decided regarding the timeframe of 2010 and 2015 for the collective European target of 0.7%. That alone will bring €20 billion into play for development by 2010. One can see the size of the European contribution, for example, in the debt relief package, which provided €25 billion. The increased flow of aid from Europe alone is almost as large as the relief aid package.
Acting Chairman: The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kitt, would like to speak. I ask him to ensure he has a question and the Minster of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to be a little more brief in his replies as he is preventing some of his own party Members from asking questions.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt): Like other colleagues, I warmly welcome these statements on Europe Day. I know some of the questions have come from the public, and my question is linked with one of those. There is a reference to coherence in EU policy and talk of the need for constructive engagement between Europe and the developing world.
My question is very much in the context of the earlier discussion with the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Fischer Boel. For Ireland, agriculture, development and trade form a very important debate. Ms Fischer Boel put some very useful points to us this morning in her honest, upfront answers to questions. I genuinely believe we have worked out a good, coherent policy on agriculture, trade and development regarding the WTO talks, although there are some difficulties with agriculture. I speak of the journey from Seattle to Doha, Cancún and Hong Kong. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the coherence at EU level on agriculture, trade and development?
Regarding Deputy Quinn’s comments, our position on development is good, but we can do much more at EU level to support developing countries to trade out of poverty. There is a much stronger need in that regard.
Mr. Kitt: Can we do more to encourage greater partnership, trade and investment between Europe and the developing world, especially Africa? There are fantastic agricultural products in many of the countries that I and other Members with experience of development have visited. Can we do more to promote greater constructive engagement with the developing world, especially Africa, and greater support? Can we call it “aid for trade” when it comes to supporting their products and developing partnerships between the European Union and Africa?
Mr. C. Lenihan: Deputy Kitt was my predecessor as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. There is now much more co-ordination between agriculture, trade and development Ministers in the EU. That was very evident at Hong Kong in the private meetings, and also in some more public pronouncements. Obviously, one would hope there would be more and that we in Ireland could be more coherent. We will address that subject in our White Paper, which I intend publishing in September. We hope to conclude work on it during the summer and then put it to the Cabinet.
Regarding the Private Sector Forum, there is room for much more involvement from Irish private sector companies. The Private Sector Forum, which was established by Deputy Kitt, has borne fruit. I do not mean that facetiously, since it is focused on a Ugandan food project involving fruit and biscuits and how they can be brought into retail outlets in Ireland and Britain. That has become a practical success story, and we are very proud that such engagement can be continued and improved.
The broader issue of coherence concerns the European Union. There were very coherent discussions in Hong Kong, and people are becoming more coherent and talking more for the precise reason that Deputy Quinn outlined. Europe is doing great things on development but receiving very little credit for it. The Everything but Arms initiative has had an enormous impact on least-developed countries, and it is now being extended, albeit haltingly, since other countries are adopting it. Europe took the lead in granting total quota- and duty-free access to the wealthiest markets in the world.
The others present at Hong Kong and in those countries can learn from Europe, which is taking the initiative. A great many simplistic rationales are thrown at European agriculture, which is being reformed very vigorously. The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, has stated that people, including farmers, need time to trade out of their subsidy regime, and that will happen between now and 2013. The Taoiseach is right to take that view from both a European and a national interest perspective.
I thought that we were trying to reflect people’s concerns and questions and that we would discard the Question Time format. Much of this could be done any week in committee. I thought we would at least get to grips with some of the concerns. I laid aside my opening statement to put some questions to the Minister of State that he has not even addressed. He has spoken on the Palestinian situation and the termination of aid to the Palestinian Authority. Having listened to him, I do not know where he stands. I am none the wiser, since I heard many words but no points made.
Mr. Allen: I am asking a simple question. What is Ireland’s stance on humanitarian aid to Palestine? How did Ireland vote on the decision taken by the Council of Ministers? Was yesterday’s UN decision a slap in the face for the EU regarding its original premature decision, which has seriously harmed services in Palestine and its people? Has anyone questioned Israel’s attitude to withholding taxes that it should have paid to the Palestinian Authority? Some do not like the election result, but it was conducted fairly, and we should not penalise people for exercising their democratic right, even as we condemn Hamas. The Minister should give a straight answer regarding who made the decision, what side we were on, and whether we were for or against it.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I admire and totally applaud the idealism from which the Deputy’s concern for the people of Palestine springs. The Irish position could not be clearer. We are in favour of engagement and continue to disperse our development aid in the country. The European decision was taken for good, well-argued reasons.
Mr. C. Lenihan: The key point, as Deputies Allen and Quinn are aware, is that there was no vote. Matters at European level are generally pursued by way of consensus. I have only been in this post for two years, but I have never been in a situation where there has been a vote at a gathering of European Ministers.
Deputy Allen posed some serious questions and while I wanted to respond earlier, the procedure did not allow it. The Deputy inquired about decentralisation. I am glad that of the 124 posts we will relocate to Limerick, 34 have already been filled by officers who wish to move with the decentralisation project to Limerick. A further 17 posts will be filled in the coming months by staff from within the Department of Foreign Affairs who are due to return from overseas postings. We are very confident that we will meet our targets. The Office of Public Works has indicated that it has reached agreement on the terms of lease for our premises in Limerick. We are confident that the project will proceed and we are very happy with the numbers we are achieving. Clearly, we will need to monitor the issues of risk management and the protection of corporate management to which the Deputy referred. That is being done. Within my office, I have seen new people joining who are being inducted into the organisation and knowledge is being shared. I am confident that this project will be well executed and that it will reflect well on both the Department and the original decision to decentralise.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I believe that refers to other donors and not to the Irish aid money. I reassure the Deputy that none of our money has been tampered with in the context of what we do on a humanitarian basis in Iraq.
The economic partnership agreements have, to a large extent, been misconstrued by many people in civil society and in the Dáil. The EPAs are development instruments designed to help these countries. They have not yet reached the deadline by which they are to be finished and operational. We have until 2008 in that regard. I am reassured by personally having raised the matter at various ministerial meetings and directly with Commissioner Mandelson. I was particularly encouraged by the remarks he made to the EU Development Ministers in Leeds that these are primarily viewed as development instruments, designed to encourage south-to-south trade, which is the key issue. While considerable talk and guff is engaged in regarding the WTO, one crucial point cannot be forgotten in this regard, namely, that 60% of levies and customs duties of various kinds are charged by developing countries against other developing countries. The important focus of EU aid efforts will be on how we can create regional integration within the continent of Africa. For example, east Africa has very ambitious plans to integrate its economies, namely, those of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, in a common market-style approach, which was how Ireland, as a country, gained from Europe.
Mr. C. Lenihan: To a large extent, it is not remarked upon in the literature. Our access to the Common Market allowed us to become one of the greatest and biggest trading nations on earth. Some 90% of what we produce is now exported.
Acting Chairman: I will take questions from the four Deputies offering and perhaps the Minister of State will reply to them. If the four Deputies limit themselves to asking questions, the Minister of State will have time to do so.
Mr. Carey: I will be very specific. Along with some colleagues from the Houses of the Oireachtas, I spent some days last week in Ethiopia to look at Irish aid projects and to consider the outcome of the flawed elections that took place last May. The Irish aid projects we saw in Tigré are worthy of continued support and I urge the Minister of State to continue and to intensify that support, if possible. We were very impressed by the watershed and safety net projects in particular.
Mr. Carey: In the course of our discussions, we met the Prime Minister and three imprisoned leaders of the opposition. We met Hailu Shawil and Dr. Berhanu Nega, who will be known to many people here because he worked with the ESRI, both of whom are imprisoned. Will the Minister of State engage with his colleagues in the EU to speed up the trials of the many people in prison? The Prime Minister claims that approximately 90 people are imprisoned. The leaders of the opposition state that there are more than 1,000 people in prisons scattered throughout the country. There is an onus on the Government to pressurise the Ethiopian Government to speed up their release.
Mr. M. Higgins: When does the Government propose to sign the United Nations Convention against Corruption? How many countries in the EU have done so and when will the others do so? On Europe Day, can the Minister of State provide details of the total amount of committed, lodged but unallocated money for development purposes from the European Union? Can some of this money be used for the replacement of cattle in countries such as Chad?
Mr. M. Higgins: Is it the view of the European Union that we should not force countries to accept genetically modified foods as is happening at present? Is the view of the Minister of State and that of the European Development Ministers different from that of the World Bank in promoting the privatisation of water supplies, particularly in Africa where countries struggle to achieve universal provision? If the purpose of the EPAs is south-to-south co-operation, as the Minister of State said, why did the European Union refuse to negotiate with the countries on a collective basis? Several states wanted to come together to engage in talks with the European Union.
Mr. Deasy: How much pressure is the EU exerting on Zimbabwe to implement internal reform? How much pressure are we putting on the EU to make this happen? Given that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs recently held a hearing on this matter, it is germane.
Mr. Boyle: Yesterday, the People’s Republic of China was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. China has an appalling human rights record in the context of its actions in Tibet and its approach to its Muslim minority and the practitioners of Falun Gong. Why has the EU — and Ireland as part thereof — not been sufficiently strong in condemning China’s human rights record? Is not its election to this body an obscenity, allowing the Chinese to preen as part of such a body when its human rights are so appalling?
Mr. C. Lenihan: Deputy Carey referred to his recent visit to Ethiopia. We will continue our operation in Tigré and will consider the regional presence of our programme in that country. We are actively considering how we can spread our aid more regionally. Tigré is our only regional involvement. As the Deputy correctly stated, the safety net project saves up to 6 million people from dying as a result of famine. It is a very successful programme, of which other donors now want to be part.
We are very strong on following up on and being concerned about human rights and other issues. We act in concert with our EU donor partners and with the Nordic plus group, of which we form a part in terms of our involvement in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia generally. Nobody has a magic answer as to how we could tidy up and make the Ethiopian Government improve its treatment of and respect for the opposition. At the recent meeting of the world’s richest donor countries in Paris, the assistance committee of the OECD, this subject perplexed virtually every donor Minister who spoke. The OECD gave the simple advice to stay engaged and maximise the diplomatic pressure that can and should be applied to the Prime Minister, Mr. Meles Zenawi and his government. We will respond directly to Deputy Carey regarding the Action Aid lawyer.
I have raised the problem of unspent aid numerous times, particularly in regard to humanitarian interventions. The EU was very slow to commit money to many high-profile human disasters in 2005. We criticised this, as did some of the Nordic donors. There is a problem around the European Union quickly disbursing aid both in the humanitarian sense——
Mr. C. Lenihan: I do not know. It has perplexed us all that the European Union does not seem to make people aware that the money is there, or have it drawn down and disbursed. We have a good reputation in this regard but not all donors do. The European Union has been slow and we have put as much pressure as we can on the Commissioner, Mr. Michel, to disburse that money in a timely and efficient fashion.
We are addressing the matter of the EPAs. We have voiced serious concerns at EU ministerial level on behalf of our partner countries in Africa which are deeply disappointed the Commission is not discussing these EPAs in a timely fashion. They want the EPAs to work but they also want the level of compensation they expect and deserve, and we are raising that matter.
Deputy Deasy raised the vexed issue of Zimbabwe. I cannot present a positive view of what is occurring there. I applaud the Deputy for holding a discussion and hearing on this in the Joint Committee on European Affairs, which he chairs. There is no easy answer. The European Union and other donors around the world have been urging, pressing and pushing African leaders, who are best placed to deal with this issue, to sort the matter out and bring pressure to bear on Robert Mugabe. This has not worked. Many people wonder how we can confront issues of governance and the renunciation of the democratic rights we take for granted but which are being routinely abused in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Mr. C. Lenihan: While we have strong positive feelings about the new economic partnership for Africa we have expressed deep concern about its peer review process of how countries conduct themselves in matters of governance and proper government. The NEPAD initiative will not work unless something is done about Mugabe and the situation in Zimbabwe. I would love to pour more hope into the situation but unfortunately I cannot.
We regularly and often raise the human rights situation in China in the context of our bilateral ministerial visits. The European Union shows its strength by having an established structure for human rights dialogue with China, the next round of which will be held in Vienna in May. The issues Deputy Boyle mentioned, including Falun Gong, are regularly raised with the Chinese authorities in that dialogue. We and other countries express deep concern about that.
Mr. C. Lenihan: The European Union regularly brings virtually all the complaints made by Falun Gong to the attention of the Chinese authorities. We act in concert with those representations. The strength of the European Union is to act as a cohesive group and raise concerns at that level. We try to hold people to account for human rights. I accept there is something-——
Mr. C. Lenihan: For the benefit of the House I do not wish to inflict a five minute round-up on Members. I am conscious of Deputy Allen’s points about getting his questions answered. I will open the debate up to further questions if that is in order.
Mr. Quinn: I will assist the Minister of State. He said there was no vote on the Palestinian question but will he indicate what was the formal position of the Irish Minister in the tour de table? Was it for or against?
Mr. M. Higgins: There are studies in the Nordic countries; for example that of Professor Svendsen in Denmark, suggesting that it is helpful to publish and make transparent the transfers within a country. The European Union’s influence on corruption is reduced because it has not signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I am anxious to answer the Deputy’s question. We take this matter seriously. At a recent meeting in Paris my Norwegian counterpart, Eric Solheim, said we are under pressure to frontload the kind of commitments on corruption, human rights, and democratic accountability that we expect from recipient countries, in return for the contribution we make to their exchequers, by way of development assistance. This is becoming increasingly the pattern with other bilateral donors like ourselves.
Mr. C. Lenihan: This will form a significant part of the effort as we increase the amount we give to these countries. There must be clear milestones, and obligations on the recipients to reach these milestones which will be linked to further assistance. This must be presented upfront in the country programmes. Eric Solheim said——
Mr. M. Higgins: I support the Minister of State on all those issues but why do we and other European countries not sign the convention in order to have some credibility? That is the issue. All the rest is fine but when will we sign?
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