Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
46. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the recently published Africa strategy, initiated by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, will be debated in Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27240/11]
89. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the recently published Africa strategy, initiated by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin will be debated in Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27385/11]
On 13 September, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade launched a new Africa strategy for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The strategy is titled Ireland and Africa; Our Partnership with a Changing Continent. It was launched at the first ever Africa — Ireland economic forum, which was organised by the Department in partnership with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the African ambassadors accredited to Ireland. I was very pleased to open the event, which was attended by a large number of Irish business representatives, diplomats, NGOs and academics.
The elaboration of the strategy involved a series of consultations within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with other Departments and agencies, and with private sector and civil society representatives. Its objective is to ensure a more co-ordinated and coherent approach to our relations with Africa — political, development, economic and trade promotion — at the bilateral level and in the context of our membership of the European Union, the United Nations and other international bodies. There is a particular focus on enhancing the capacity of Ireland’s embassy network in Africa to support the work of State agencies, including Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia.
The strategy builds on the relationships established over many years by Ireland’s development assistance programme, which is recognised internationally for its strong focus on the fight against poverty and hunger and for its concentration on the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa. This will be maintained. However, the strategy seeks to respond comprehensively to the realities of a changing continent in which economic growth is beginning to open up new opportunities for economic development.
I presented the strategy at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on 28 September. There are no specific plans for a debate in the House at this stage. However, I look forward to continuing to consult closely with the joint committee as the Department moves ahead with implementation of the Africa strategy.
Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: I will not detain the House unduly on what is a housekeeping matter. While an interesting and worthwhile debate was held in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, it would be useful to discuss these important matters on the floor of the House, not least given the challenges the Tánaiste and Minister of State will face in protecting and maintaining the current, necessary level of overseas development aid.
On our role in Europe, has the Minister of State discussed with her counterparts in the European Union how we can collectively move to protect the level of overseas development aid in these difficult times? Has she found a means of challenging wealthier but much less generous member states to increase their contribution to development aid in order that it is on a par with the contribution of citizens of this State who are highly committed to this issue?
It was a great achievement to publish the Africa strategy initiated by the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Martin. It is very positive and a recognition of the potential Africa offers that 140 Irish companies were represented at the strategy’s launch. Does the Minister of State agree that it was also positive that none other than Mr. Gay Mitchell, one of the presidential candidates, highlighted this issue today as one of his objectives in the event that he is elected President?
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The Deputy’s suggestion that we have a debate in the Chamber is a good one. I will speak to the Government Whip to try to arrange a time for such a discussion as the more engagement Members have on the strategy, the better.
On ensuring the development programme is supported in all other European countries, this issue was debated at one of the meetings of development ministers when one of my counterparts read out the figures on the percentage of GDP member states allocate to overseas development aid. Ireland was commended on being in the top group, having reached a figure in excess of 0.5% of GDP. The naming and shaming at the meeting did not go down well with all the ministers present. It is appropriate, however, that we constantly highlight and apply pressure on this issue, although I accept it is more difficult for some countries than others.
I concur with Deputy Ó Fearghaíl on the importance of the strategy and the attendance at the launch was very strong. Africa is experiencing growth rates of more than 5% and these are likely to increase. The continent is changing rapidly, with the number of people living in cities also increasing. While we must continue with our development programme, African countries and Ireland could benefit from the trading opportunities that are available.
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