Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
I welcome the opportunity to move this motion on behalf of the Labour Party Senators. The House will recall that, in 2000, the Taoiseach gave a solemn commitment to the United Nations that Ireland’s contribution in terms of GNP to overseas development aid would be raised to 0.7% by 2007. He gave that commitment not only on behalf of the Government, but on behalf of the Irish people as a whole and it is fair to say that many of us not involved in Government or with the Government parties were happy and proud to support the commitment when made and indeed since. It is all the sadder then that, only five years later, the Taoiseach resiled abysmally from the commitment given so solemnly and proudly by him five years ago.
It is important to recall the context in which that commitment was given by the Taoiseach. It was given against a lamentable background of a continual slide in the overseas development aid commitment of the developed countries in the preceding ten years and in the context of the agreement reached in 2000 on the millennium development goals. Without listing all eight goals, it is perhaps worth mentioning one or two. The goals dealt with issues such as the reduction by half of those living in poverty and hunger by 2015; the provision of a universal primary education; and the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels by 2015. There were eight goals in all. Seven of the eight require primary action by developing countries and the eighth requires primary action by the international community, and particularly by developed countries, in the creation of a fair global partnership for development. It is understood that refers to both trade and our commitment for ODA. It was in that context that the Government made the commitment of which we were all very proud.
The impression has been given by Government that in some way the economy grew too quickly, we were too rich, we did not expect this commitment to cost us so much and that it was a terrible surprise to discover a few months ago that we could not afford all the money or spend it properly. Any cursory examination or analysis of the facts will show quickly that this is nonsense. As soon as the commitment was given as 2002, the then chairman of the advisory board of Development Cooperation Ireland, Mr. Des O’Malley, was lamenting the lack of progress made at that point in terms of the commitment that would have been necessary to meet the target in 2007. His successor in that position, Mr. Chris Flood, in the pre-budget submission made in 2003, again lamented that the interim target had not been met and that there was, even at that time, little or no prospect of reaching the Government’s commitment by 2007. It is hardly surprising then that the current Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, who I welcome to the House, announced a few months ago that there was no prospect the Government would reach its target.
It gives me no pleasure to say so but it is clear from any cursory analysis of the facts that this commitment was never a serious one among those whose commitment was necessary to make it happen. Sadly, this was no more than a political deception. Strangely, the only year in which the required increase was made was 2002, the year of the general election.
We now find ourselves with another commitment which we already know will not be met. The Minister announced a few months ago that instead of reaching a target of 0.7%, we would reach a target of 0.5%. A few days later, if memory serves me correctly, we were given the real numbers in terms of the actual financial commitments that will be made in the next three years which make it clear that there is no prospect of reaching a target of 0.5% in 2007. That is not because economic growth has been higher than anybody expected it to be. The general assumption in 2000, and more or less ever since, was that we would reasonably reach a rate of economic growth of 5%. We always knew the amount of money that would be required. The former Minister of State, Deputy O’Donnell, who did a fine job as Minister with responsibility for overseas development aid, chaired a committee within Ireland Aid in 2002. She always worked, as did everybody at that time, on the assumption that we would require an approximate doubling of our aid in monetary terms before 2007 if we were to meet the commitment. We were at €500 million around 2000. Everybody knew we would need to get to €1 billion. We never looked likely to do that, and now we know that we will not.
The argument is also made by Government, and this is even more disingenuous in some ways — it was repeated only last week by the senior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern — that we cannot use the money effectively or efficiently because the projects are not there. It is essential that we nail this lie here and now. However, as the Minister of State will be aware, it was nailed very effectively at a meeting of the Sub-committee on Development Co-operation before Christmas when representatives of NGOs made it clear that they would be capable of using any finance the Department might be prepared to give them. At the meeting in question, Mr. Éamonn Meehan of Trócaire stated that every year his organisation is forced to turn down very good projects that request development assistance because of insufficient resources. Hans Zomer of Dóchas made it clear that his organisation could deal with a considerable increase in aid and, most important of all, Mr. Ronan Murphy, who is now director general of DCI, indicated that there are quite a few areas where more money could be absorbed not just over the coming years, but almost immediately. Mr. Murphy outlined the fact that Ireland has increased its number of programme countries to include four countries in south-east Asia, namely, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Timor Leste. He also indicated that, as we are all too tragically aware, it is perfectly possible to increase our commitment towards emergency aid with immediate effect.
The comments in question were made in early December and Members are aware of what happened on St. Stephen’s Day. The commitment of €10 million since then by the Government is welcome. I am aware of the Minister of State’s commitment — perhaps he will repeat it here — that this money will not be diverted from other sources and that it will be additional. Sadly, emergency aid is always required because situations such as that which arose in south-east Asia occur year-on-year. Money can be usefully spent in providing emergency assistance when it is required.
There is also the issue of HIV-AIDS. Anyone familiar with southern Africa will be aware of the devastating effect HIV-AIDS is having on the populations of countries in the area. Literally thousands of people are being infected and dying on a weekly basis in the countries to which I refer. It is frequently the most productive and essential people in society, namely, those of working age, who are infected. There is an ongoing urgent need for assistance to deal with both the effects of HIV-AIDS and the issue of prevention.
There is also a need to invest in the area of sexual and reproductive health. I am a member of the Oireachtas committee chaired by Senator Henry which takes a particular interest in these issues. In that context, I visited Ethiopia last year and it is difficult not to be affected by the obvious need one sees all around one in that country in respect of sexual and reproductive health. We visited Ghandi Hospital, the main maternity hospital in Addis Ababa, where the conditions mothers giving birth are forced to tolerate are quite abysmal. The infant mortality rate in that country is also extraordinarily high. It does not take long to discover why that is the case. Such is the infrastructure and so poor are the roads that if a woman in labour is in an emergency situation, it is frequently not possible to travel the 10 km or 20 km from her home to the nearest clinic where an emergency intervention of the kind we take for granted, such as a caesarean section, could be carried out. Many of these women or their children — sometimes even both — die as a result. I urge the Minister of State to consider increasing the percentage of the aid we provide in respect of sexual and reproductive health.
It is clear that there is plenty of scope for immediate investment in many projects and for the expansion of our overseas development programme. The only serious capacity constraint arises in respect of the staffing of DCI. It has been continually recommended that the staff numbers at DCI should rise in accordance with increases in the financial commitment we make. In that context, when it carried out a review some years ago, the OECD recommended a staff figure of 350 to 380 as appropriate for a country making a commitment of the level being made by Ireland. At present, the number of staff stands at 150 to 160. Sadly, this is only approximately half of what is required.
We increasingly work with people from the individual programme countries, which is right and proper. However, in order to ensure we obtain value for money and that Irish taxpayers’ money is being spent on the programmes for which it is intended, it is important that we have the support of the individual aid workers on the ground and those based at headquarters in Dublin. We have not made the commitment necessary in terms of staffing and I urge the Minister of State to reconsider the position.
No one, least of all people in my party, pretends that the issue of aid can be looked at in isolation. There are other matters which are crucially important in terms of the development of the Third World. I refer to trade and, for that matter, fair trade. The developed world transfers many billions of euro to the developing world on an annual basis. However, it also sucks many billions back out by way of debt repayments and by insisting on imposing unfair and unreasonable subsidies on our own produce so as to effectively exclude the primary products that are produced by Third World countries. The latter is an issue not only for the European Union and developing countries but also for Ireland. We impose subsidies on our own produce and we impose tariffs on imports from the Third World which have the effect of negating much of the good work we seek to do by way of overseas development aid.
While we obviously do not accept that the Government should be allowed to resile from the 0.7% commitment in 2007, the proposal put forward by my party is that we should reconsider that commitment and enshrine it in legislation. We must also seek to achieve the broadest level of agreement on the financial commitment we will make and on the timetable for making it. I suggest that this be done in the context of the review of the development goals that will take place next September. It should be possible, in dealing with the NGOs, to reach agreement on attaining the target at the earliest possible date and this commitment should also be enshrined in legislation. It is not an unreasonable requirement. We have, for example, made a statutory commitment to set aside 1% of GNP for pensions in 20 years’ time. It is not without precedent, it can be done and it should be enshrined in legislation by way of a commitment from which no Government, least of all the one currently in office, can resile.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid to the House for this important debate. I thank our colleagues in the Labour Party for tabling the motion, even though there is an underlying political agenda in the text. I am sure the Minister of State will be able to respond to the latter in great detail.
I wish to reiterate what I said on a recent Order of Business, namely, that while it is fair and right that political charges should be levelled at any Minister of State, I deplore the more personalised attacks to which the Minister of State was subjected at the height of the tsunami disaster when he looked after his brief so admirably and with great commitment and was then pilloried for taking a couple of days off with his family between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Minister of State has a young family and I do not believe anybody in the political arena would begrudge him a few days off with them. He was obliged to leave his family in the middle of their holiday in order to attend an important meeting. What was said about him went beyond formal political comment.
We are concerned here with statistics. In that context, the old cliché about statistics and damn lies arises. I am not suggesting that the motion contains anything that is an untruth. There is definitely no gainsaying the fact that at the UN in 2000, the Taoiseach committed Ireland to achieving 0.7% of GNP by 2007. This commitment was made with the very best of intentions. Like all Government commitments, it was made in the context of the phrase “as resources allow”. However, the Taoiseach appears to have been hung out to dry in respect of this matter, the legacy of which the Minister of State is suffering. This is despite the fact that there are positive and encouraging signs that the Government is moving towards achieving the goal, if not by 2007 then shortly thereafter. It might be salutary for the House to know that in recent statistics that have come my way, 95% of worldwide financial assistance is from countries which are members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. The list of countries that have achieved the 0.7% of gross national income target is very short. Denmark heads it, along with Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden. The next country on the list is Ireland, with 0.41% as a result of the battle the Minister fought with his Cabinet colleagues to ensure an increase in money terms for ODA in the budget.
For those who might pillory the Government for its alleged inactivity or failure to achieve its target, the reality is that Ireland is the fifth highest contributor to overseas development aid. Only a handful of countries have achieved this target. The world’s two largest economies, the United States and Japan, only spent 0.15% and 0.2% respectively on aid. More than 500 million people will escape abject poverty, 250 million will no longer go to bed hungry and 30 million will be saved if rich nations double their development aid over the next decade, according to a UN-sponsored report. The report, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, was commissioned by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, and will be presented to the G8 meeting of industrial nations in July and to world leaders at the UN General Assembly, two months later. Professor Sachs eloquently states:
He says the goals are not utopian, but are eminently achievable. He lays out plans for achieving these goals by setting deadlines for specific, often simple, projects that experts say have been proven to work, rather than just calling for scattershot aid. Ireland could not be accused of that. I suggest that its ODA budget and the manner in which it is implemented is focused and efficient and is making a real difference in those areas where it is being spent.
One of the more significant decisions taken in recent months is that the Minister for Finance has agreed to a multi-annual commitment of €60 million in the current year, €65 million next year and a further €65 million in 2007. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is owed a thumbs-up for this initiative. I agree with the Minister of State that the restoration of the multi-annual funding arrangement was a key priority identified by those involved in the development sector. Significantly, the three-year arrangement is not capped and there is a commitment from the Government to improve on these amounts if Exchequer resources are available. In real terms the total increase over the three years will be a minimum of €190 million. I agree with the Minister of State’s analysis that this contribution will, by 2007, put Ireland within striking distance of the target figure of 0.7% of GNP.
Considering the competing claims from the health and education sectors in particular, I believe this to be a generous contribution. I also want to put on the record a quotation from UNICEF. Ms Maura Quinn, executive director UNICEF Ireland, warmly welcomed the allocation when she said:
The Minister of State can stand proud over his record in office so far. I have known him for some time and am aware of his knowledge of and commitment to this vulnerable area of Government expenditure. If this is how he has started this part of his mandate, I have no doubt that by 2007 when he is completing it, we will be very close to the 0.7% target.
Mr. Browne: With the agreement of the House, I will share my time with Senator Quinn. I apologise, first of all, for my colleague, Senator Bradford who cannot be in the House this evening. He has asked me to speak in support of the motion instead of him. The motion before the House is simple and effective. It is shameful that the Taoiseach made a commitment and then blatantly broke it. The world is a small place, even though we may take a selfish attitude and argue that we are all right here in Ireland, while forgetting about everyone else. We saw the effects of the tsunami on 26 December. Although it happened thousands of miles away, it had an enormous impact on Irish people living abroad. It gave many Irish people at home anxious nights worrying about loved ones, and unfortunately some lost their lives. Ultimately Ireland was lucky in having so few fatalities in comparison to other countries.
However, the onus is on us to play our role in ensuring the world is a safer and better place. It is vital that we allocate money in line with the commitment made by the Taoiseach on overseas development. The public’s response as regards the tsunami appeal was tremendous. That reflects the attitude of the general public and it is vital the Government matches that. It is also vital it ensures that the money given is spent correctly. I was coming back from Clare recently when I heard the Minister of State on the radio with Mr. Sean O’Rourke. I was not too sure where the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, was going in the interview because he appeared to be indicating there was a difficulty with some of the aid agencies. If there is a difficulty, then he should clarify that immediately because uncertainty of this nature does not do the aid agencies any good. As far as I am aware, all of the aid agencies are doing great work in very difficult circumstances. I do not believe it is helpful when the Minister of State with responsibility for a portfolio makes comments that might be misconstrued. Perhaps this could be a useful opportunity for the Minister of State to clarify his remarks. Irish people are generous. They want to see their money being spent appropriately and believe that is happening.
I welcome another initiative the Government took recently as regards the tsunami appeal, the appointment of Mr. Chris Flood, a former constituency colleague of the Minister of State, as an envoy. That is a welcome step, which perhaps could be replicated in other areas.
Fine Gael supports the Labour Party motion. It is regrettable that the Government is tabling an amendment. I suppose it is playing with words, really. The bottom line is that a commitment was given and it is up to the Government to deliver on it. We cannot allow a situation to develop whereby the Government is all over the place. We witnessed the difficulty the Taoiseach landed himself in recently over the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. He first gave a clear commitment, then backed down on it and now he is back on record again. Hopefully, he will stick with his resolve this time.
Tonight’s motion basically calls on the Taoiseach to honour his commitment. The Minister of State has a difficult time ahead in the next few years because Ireland will be expected to do more and more work in the overseas area. In a way we are moving on from the traditional Ireland of the past, when the religious orders went abroad, founded monasteries and spread Christianity around the world. We have moved on from that and now we are spreading humanity and putting in basic services. I was part of a delegation from the Oireachtas that recently went to Lesotho. I am amazed at the amount of work that Irish agencies had carried out there.
Mr. Quinn: I thank Senator Browne for allowing me to share his time. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am delighted that he is in the position in which he finds himself. I know his heart is in the right place and that he intends to do a great deal. I hope he manages to achieve a great deal in his time. In supporting this motion tonight, the words we use will help him.
Let me first deal with a few red herrings. It is a red herring to suggest, as has been done, that we could not spend the large amount of money involved in increasing our overseas aid to the 0.7% target by 2007. If there was any difficulty in ramping up the bilateral aid programme to this level by 2007, the obvious solution would be to spend any surplus through the many multilateral aid channels that are available. Spending money in that way involves no more than simply writing a cheque. Another red herring is to suggest that our basic promise remains in place, but that we have just shifted the date by which it is to be reached. This is blatant nonsense. An integral part of the promise was the timescale. Vague, undated targets have been set many times before, both by ourselves and by others. This promise was different because there was an unequivocal time commitment written into it. By removing the time element, we make the overall promise meaningless.
A third red herring is the suggestion that somehow we cannot afford to live up to our original promise. That was the justification for cutting overseas aid in 2002, when the Government tried to row back on its pre-election over-spending. It might have made some sense in the context of the uncertain economic outlook which prevailed in 2002. However, it makes no sense at all now. We are back on course as one of the richest countries in the world, as the Government is pleased to tell us. The Exchequer has money coming out of its ears. To put on a poor mouth at this stage of the game is simply not credible.
With those red herrings out of the way, let us move on to ask what this fuss is all about. After all, political promises are not worth much in anyone’s currency. Part of the reason the political process is held in such low regard is the cavalier attitude that politicians of all political hues take to their promises. The problem here is the nature of the promise, to whom it was made and on whose behalf it was made. When the Taoiseach stood up at the United Nations in 2000 and first made this solemn commitment, he was not speaking in a personal capacity. He was not speaking as the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party or even as the head of the Irish Government. On that occasion, he was speaking as the leader of the Irish people. It was on behalf of the people that this promise was made and not on behalf of the Government, Fianna Fáil or on his own behalf. That was why I felt a tremendous surge of pride when he spoke at the United Nations and made this commitment. It is why I, along with a large number of other people in this country, feel a sense of deep shame and betrayal now that the solemn promise has been reneged on.
What made matters worse was to whom this promise was made. This was not a little local promise made to a few supporters at a political meeting. It was not even a commitment made to the nation generally, either through the Dáil or a public pronouncement. Instead it was a promise to the whole world, in particular to the poor peoples of this world who were foolish enough to be taken in by it. What makes this different as a promise was what it was all about, the most important challenge facing the world today — how to cope with widespread poverty in a world of plenty. That promise was a beacon of light in a world of darkness.
It was a recognition that something could be done about world poverty and that Ireland could play a part in leading the charge. By making this promise and living up to it, Ireland could aspire to a kind of moral leadership that is out of proportion to our size or our resources. It was a promise that resonated perfectly both with our history as a colonised State and with our traditional values of caring for our fellow man. By reneging on the promise, we have lost that opportunity and perhaps we have lost it for ever.
If we had never made the promise, no one might have noticed. Given that we did make it, and make it so publicly and so solemnly, we cannot but lose in moral standing if we back down on it now. This is a promise that we simply cannot afford to break. I appeal to the Government to rethink its approach to this issue. If nothing else, it should reflect on the contrast between the spontaneous generosity demonstrated by the people after the tsunami disaster and the small minded mean spirited thinking that produced this failure to meet our commitments.
I listened to Senator Mooney and I understand the point he made. We are fourth in line in overseas aid spending, but that is not the point. It is easy to say that we are generous as things go. We made a promise and we can afford to keep it. It is not a question of saying that we are generous compared to others. The fact that the US and Japan have not lived up to anything like what we have done is not the point. We made a promise. We owe it to the poor people of the world and to those who listened to that promise.
Mr. Minihan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It has been 14 months since I last had an opportunity to speak on this important subject so I welcome the Labour Party decision to table this motion before us as well as the Government amendment. When speaking on overseas aid it is easy to use emotive language because it is an emotive subject. We live in a global village with 24-hour media coverage, so nobody can have any excuse for not knowing the difficulties faced by people in other parts of the world. However, such is the enormity of those difficulties that it is often difficult for people living in the developed world to fully comprehend them.
In preparing this speech this evening, I felt it would be a useful exercise to update my own knowledge of those difficulties. The World Bank estimates that in 2001, 1.1 billion people lived on less than $1 a day while 2.7 billion people lived on less than $2 a day. While this represents a small reduction from the figures I presented to the House in November 2003, I feel no sense of satisfaction as they remain too high. The World Bank correctly stated that much more remains to be done.
While there has been some overall reduction in global poverty, there are areas of the world where more people are living in extreme poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, where GDP per capita shrank by 14%, poverty rose from 41% in 1981 to 46% in 2001, while an additional 150 million people are living in extreme poverty. While figures such as these could cause one to despair of ever alleviating the crushing poverty that afflicts so many parts of the world, the reaction of governments and their citizens to the recent Indian Ocean tsunami gives renewed hope for the future. That €70 million could be committed by this Government and its citizens to disaster relief in the region is a great testament to the priority that we give to overseas aid. When speaking last week of how much of an example Ireland is in its approach to development aid, James Wolfensohn of the World Bank stated that it was remarkable for four million people to come up with €70 million. Ireland and its Government have a remarkable record. Whereas our overseas development aid budget stood at just €158 million seven years ago, today it stands at €535 million. According to the figures as outlined, the budget will be €665 million in 2007 which is three times the 1997 level.
It is worth noting that had our GNP remained static since 2000, the Government’s visionary commitment to increase the overseas aid budget to 0.7% of GNP would have been met by 2007. The argument is obviously false, however, as GNP has increased significantly since 2000. It is quite likely that by the time the Government reaches its target, the overseas aid budget will exceed €1 billion. It is a daunting figure, but one I welcome as there is still so much to be done to alleviate world poverty.
I compliment the Government on its continued commitment to the development co-operation programme to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion in developing countries. During last week’s debate on the Asian tsunami, I called on the Minister of State to include the Maldives in the programme. As I did not have the opportunity to do so on that occasion, I thank the Minister of State for his comments on the Maldives and his commitment to include it in our overseas aid programme. I trust the commitment will not be to the detriment of established programmes. The main focus of aid must be sub-Saharan Africa where, as I stated previously, conditions appear to be worsening.
The 0.7% of GNP target was set by the Cabinet, which has not decided to fail to meet it. While I accept it will require significant increases to get back on track, a positive result of debate on the matter has been the establishment of three-year, multiannual budgetary commitments. While a minimum provision is guaranteed, it is open to the Exchequer to achieve the original target. We have been thrown off course, but we should not abandon our objective. There is an onus on politicians of all parties to continue to highlight the work of Irish people, NGOs, the Minister of State and his predecessors, Minister of State Deputy Tom Kitt, and my party colleague, Deputy O’Donnell.
I welcome the stated intention of Mr. Tony Blair and Mr. Gordon Brown announced at the recent G8 summit to recommit the West to addressing the growing AIDS crisis in Africa. We need a commitment to a consistent, unanimous approach to helping the less well-off. We have much to be proud of in Ireland and should not continuously knock our efforts. It was only recently that I heard it said one must live away from Ireland for a period before one can really appreciate how good it and its people are. We seem to knock our achievements consistently.
The work of our NGOs, missionaries and people who are committed to the less well-off in the small world in which we now live must be acknowledged. I was privileged to see on the ground in Lesotho the tremendous work to which Senator Browne referred. It could not be done if the Irish people had not committed to overseas development to the extent they have. To empower people in such places to do the work themselves is to give them a great gift. We have much to be proud of nationally and internationally.
I compliment the Minister of State and the officials of his Department on their work. They should not lose sight of the objective. While we have been thrown off course, debates such as this allow us to continue to highlight this issue. Hopefully, we will reach the overseas development aid target by 2007 or shortly thereafter.
Mr. Feighan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his new position. While I am the sort of politician who acknowledges positive Government action, I must make my feelings known if it does anything which is not advantageous. In 2000, the Government decided to allocate 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid by 2007, which is only two years away. The promise was made before the international community in the United Nations and was something of which I was very proud. I was a member of Roscommon County Council at the time and felt the commitment was a great gesture. Ireland was leading the way in development aid for countries and people who were not in the same position as us. Over the past five years, Ireland’s resources have increased enormously but poor progress has been made and the Government has now acknowledged the target will not be met. While a target of 0.5% of GNP may be reached by 2007, the Government has failed to set a new deadline by which to achieve the 0.7% figure.
While I accept that it is very difficult to calculate a percentage of the GNP of any country, if people cannot reach a target, they must stand up and admit as much. Instead, we have histrionics and people have felt the need to put a spin on the issue to give people a soft landing. The result is that I am confused about whether the target of 0.7% of GNP will be met by 2007.
Despite what I have heard in the debate as it has proceeded back and forth in the House, I do not believe the target will be met. Perhaps it is simply politics, but there is no need to spin the issue to give us an easier landing. I was surprised to hear a Fianna Fáil Deputy say he was surprised and embarrassed by an Opposition party’s campaign to highlight the Taoiseach’s decision to renege on the target. The cat was let out of the bag about the extent to which the Government was reneging.
A great deal of good work has been done and I highlighted in the Chamber less than a month ago the number of Irish overseas agencies. I realised how many there were only as a result of the Asian tsunami disaster. I was also somewhat confused about the work of bodies such as GOAL, Concern and Trócaire. While overseas development provision is generous, though not as generous as we would like, it may be time to consider value for money in the context of these agencies. While these agencies do great work, it may be time to consider greater regulation.
From talking to people in the field, including a friend of mine who was in Ethiopia, I understand the Red Cross is a very professional outfit with international recognition. Without saying money should be diverted to it, I am told the Red Cross has the resources in place to carry out serious work and utilise properly the money it spends. After people have been so generous and the agencies have been so committed and professional about securing funding, perhaps it is time to address the matter. Is there a structure in place under which these agencies can liaise and work together more efficiently to obtain the best value for money given that 0.7% of GNP is a significant amount? If the Government intends to meet the target, perhaps it is time to bring all the aid agencies together to improve co-operation and progress. I do not cast aspersions on the excellent work being undertaken.
The Christian Aid policy officer, Mr. Oisín Coghlan, stated it took the Government four years to break its promise to reach the UN target of 0.7% by 2007 but it only took two weeks for it to break the new promise to achieve a reduced level of 0.5% of GNP and while breaking one promise is unfortunate, breaking two seems like carelessness.
If the ODA allocation were based on the GNP of the previous year, it would be simpler but I do not know whether that has been taken into account. It would remove doubt regarding the financial outlay each year. For example, the ODA allocation for 2008 should be based on the GNP of 2007 and so on. The Minister of State’s commitment was solemn and from the heart. I acknowledge that one can make a promise with the best will in the world but sometimes circumstances change. However, I appreciate it when somebody is up-front about whether a promise can be kept. Politically, it is not the way to do business but it could eliminate much of the spin.
Fine Gael published a policy document, which advocated the introduction of legislation to ensure Ireland met an interim aid target of 0.45% of GNP by 2002 and increased its allocation by 0.05% a year until 2007. This would have been a measured approach. We come to the House and think we have problems but the Minister of State has witnessed first-hand the serious problems that must be addressed around the world. There was a major famine in Ethiopia 21 years ago but this year another famine has occurred, although a warning system is in place whereby such difficulties are recognised much earlier. That is the result of various agencies working together.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan): I thank Senator Feighan for his kind closing comments. I hope I have been up-front in the brief to date, although I may have been too up-front in the early period. However, it was important to state that we would not achieve the target rather than deceiving the public by stating it would be achieved and then not doing so, resulting in an enormous chasm of confidence in the political system as it spins its way towards pretending it is reaching targets which cannot be met based on the figures.
I welcome the motion and the opportunity to contribute to the debate. This is my most comprehensive statement to date since becoming Minister of State on overseas development and how we should proceed. There is a need for a more informed debate on development topics in Ireland and I welcome the increased number of visits by Members of both Houses to the developing world to witness at first hand circumstances on the ground. Such journeys are not junkets, as often depicted by the media, but are difficult and distressing visits. I urge Members to continue to travel to such countries.
I was greatly surprised when I took up office at the depth of understanding of development issues among Members of both Houses and I was also pleasantly surprised when I attended a recent ODA meeting to find 20 or 30 Members of both Houses present. They were present not because I was attending but because they are interested in development aid. That reflects well on our parliamentary system because for years ODA has been a minority interest.
My ambition is to widen and deepen public understanding of the Government’s sustained commitment to assisting the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world. People need to be educated about the size of the Government’s programme and public involvement, understanding and ownership of the programme, which is the largest in the history of the State, must be enhanced.
I would like to outline a number of key elements of the ODA issue and the Government’s overall commitment to development assistance. The Government’s official development assistance programme is more than 30 years old. I reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to address the needs of the poorest people in the world, to making progress towards the millennium development goals and to reaching the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNP. Since the target was first agreed at the General Assembly in 1970 it has proved difficult for many countries to reach. To date only five countries have managed to reach or exceed the target.
In this context the issue of how best to meet the UN target, and in what timeframe, is under review. Hopefully, decisions will be made in the next few months regarding how a legitimate, realistic, practical and phased approach can be adopted to achieve the target. However, both the volume and percentage of GNP increases in recent years in our ODA programme have been substantial, sustained and without parallel in other OECD member states. This year €545 million will be spent on development assistance, which is more than a threefold increase on 1997, when the total budget allocation for ODA was €158 million. The allocation will be more than 0.4% of GNP in 2005. Ireland, on account of these unprecedented aid funding increases over the past ten years, is the world’s eighth largest aid donor on a per capita basis and it lies well above the EU average of 0.36% of GNP.
Recently, the Department held a small function to thank the diplomats who gave so willingly of their time over the Christmas period to respond to the tsunami crisis. Ireland has consistently punched above its weight in diplomatic and global terms, whether through our stewardship of the Security Council or the EU Presidency. This applies not only to the current Government but also to Governments headed by former Taoisigh John Bruton and Garret FitzGerald. They also led successful Presidencies of the EU.
Ireland needs to continue to punch above its weight and our approach and commitment to ODA reflects this approach. While Ireland is the eighth largest contributor in the world, richer countries such as Japan and the US spend much less on ODA. Ireland must maintain its position because that guarantees influence and respect and that is what the people expect in a moral sense. As a country that experienced and was the victim of a most atrocious famine and which carries that legacy deep in its heart, ethos and outlook, that is what the people expect from us.
The recently announced aid increases of at least €200 million over the next three years will bring Ireland’s spending on overseas aid to €665 million in 2007, an historic high and a further increase of 40% on the current level of spending. Ireland, unlike many donors, has successfully focused its aid programme on the needs of the poorest countries. Some 50% of our total aid budget goes to the world’s poorest countries. Ireland is one of only six countries in the world to have surpassed the target endorsed by the UN of contributing at least 0.15% of GNP in ODA to the world’s least developed countries.
Unique among donors, Ireland’s ODA has always been untied and this principle will be vigorously maintained. While some countries give more than Ireland in volume, and sometimes per capita terms, they sometimes link the provision of overseas aid to entering into contractual relations, commercial and otherwise, between the donor and recipient countries. This is not a practice Ireland should imitate.
One of the central purposes of the White Paper process I have initiated is to ensure the core principles we hold dear in terms of overseas development should be enshrined in a White Paper, should be clear and unalterable and should be a matter of cross-party consensus, which I think they are. We should enshrine these principles in stone and make clear to the public and the wider world they are the ones we hold dear and will hold to as our programme expands and develops.
Ireland was the first donor to support the objective of total debt cancellation for heavily-indebted poor countries. We have consistently promoted this position in the Bretton Woods institutions at a time when the policy was not favoured by either major creditor countries or by multilateral organisations. I pay tribute to the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono who have taken a personal interest in this area. However, before these two individuals started proselytising in the area of debt relief and cancellation, the Irish State, through its aid programme, had already led the way and established a principled stance that poor, heavily-indebted countries should be given immediate 100% debt relief. The Irish aid programme and Irish policy makers, on a cross-party basis, have led the way in terms of thinking in this regard and continue to do so in the policies we outline today through our aid programme. We have underpinned our policy with generous financial support over the past few years for debt relief activities even though Ireland has never extended development assistance in the form of loans.
HIV-AIDS is a massive threat to global development. We were one of the first donors to have an integrated strategy to fight HIV-AIDS as part of our aid programme. We now spend in excess of €50 million on HIV-AIDS prevention and care programmes each year. We are also one of the first donors to take on the very difficult task of long-term provision of anti-retroviral treatment which is currently being scaled up in Mozambique, one of six programme countries in Africa where we concentrate most of our overseas aid effort. Some 85% of what we fund on the bilateral programme goes to the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa.
This House should acknowledge the excellent international reputation of the Government’s official aid programme, as evaluated independently by the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We have been unique in world terms in how these programmes have been appraised. This is of critical importance as we seek to develop our programme. We have been the subject of two praiseworthy successful evaluations by the Paris-based OECD which conducts these evaluations on behalf of the member states of the OECD. The evaluations have praised us highly as being up there with best practice. We must maintain that position.
I noted with some concern the assertion by Senator Quinn, who was kind in his contribution with regard to me, that in order to fulfil our obligations to reach the 0.7% target, we should enter into a cheque signing exercise. The suggestion seems to be we should simply sign a cheque and post it off to the UN or the other multinational agencies. We are already serious donors to those agencies and virtually everywhere I travel in the world I am thanked by the major UN family agencies for the enormous contribution we make. In volume and per capita terms, we are among the leading donors to some of these agencies.
Senator McDowell mentioned in his contribution the issue concerning sexual and reproductive health. In this regard, Thoraya Obaid, a Saudi national who is a director of the UNFPA, thanked me recently at a meeting in Holland for the Irish contribution, which she said was unrivalled. In her experience this response is wanting in other countries. She said she wished every other member of the UN was as punctilious, proper and prompt in their contributions to the UNFPA. Ireland has had a chequered history with regard to reproductive health and one can imagine that some conservative voices might suggest we should not fund this programme. There has been active debate on the topic. However, we remain an active contributor and a true believer in supporting that and other UN funds.
This House should understand that the basis of Irish public policy on overseas development is framed by and aligned to the millennium development goals. They are the template for Irish policy decision making. Ireland is living up to its international obligations. We believe in the goals and believe they can be achieved. Towards that end, and as part and parcel of the White Paper process which I mentioned already, we must align our entire policy with the millennium development goals so there is nothing in Irish policy that contradicts or hinders their achievement. We regard them as the template. The goals can be achieved and there are obvious benefits to be gained from achieving them. It is also good practice to align our policy with them.
The millennium goals agreed by the governments of 189 nations are the best and most comprehensive plan we have to try to end human misery and build strong foundations for development and peace. To put it most simply, the millennium development goals are a deal where the developed world agreed to provide the resources to help fund programmes in health care, education and infrastructural development and where developing countries agreed to implement measures to counter corruption, reduce poverty and promote democracy, peace and accountability where these have been, unfortunately, absent.
All of the policies and activities of the programme are to be judged against this commitment and their ability to achieve progress towards the goals. In a report recently compiled for the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, Jeffrey Sachs clearly outlines in rigorous technical detail not only that the millennium development goals set out in 2000 can still be achieved by 2015, but also how this can be done. This is the first time that a comprehensive costing exercise has been done and it is worth noting that the experts conclude that significant progress towards the achievement of the goals can be made with an investment of just 0.5% of the incomes of developed countries like Ireland.
As I said earlier, the issue for Ireland of how best to meet the 0.7% target, and in what timeframe, is currently under review. What is clear is that we must set a timeframe that is achievable, does not adversely affect the quality of our aid programme and is carefully managed. Some have made the critical observation that while the volume of our aid is obviously important, what is critical is the quality of our aid programme. In this context it is well to remember that it is a universally accepted principle in business that what constitutes a major threat to the viability of any organisation or business is rapid unplanned growth and expansion.
I do not need to remind people of that fact. I was therefore surprised at the approach taken by Senator Quinn. I do not wish to be too critical because in the main his contribution was positive and benign. It would be bad for Ireland’s development role and moral commitment to developing nations to engage in an operation where we sign a cheque and send it off to a multinational agency with the result that we could not guarantee good value for money and best practice in development terms. The one area where we can guarantee best practice and value for money is in regard to our bilateral programme. Senator McDowell stated——
Mr. C. Lenihan: I note that a number of other countries, including France and the UK, are looking at timeframes of somewhere around 2012 and 2013 for reaching the target of 0.7% of GNP. I have already stated publicly that a timeframe along these general lines seems reasonable and sensible for Ireland.
Events in south-east Asia since St. Stephen’s Day have both shocked and galvanised the world. Public interest in development aid, and the response of wealthy countries to emergencies such as the tsunami, have never been greater. During the next few months we will engage in a broad consultative process around the country regarding the future direction of the Government’s official development programme with the aim of drawing up a White Paper on development policy in 2006. The extraordinary response of the Irish public to the recent tsunami is clear evidence that the people do care about those who are less well-off than themselves. I am very much looking forward to listening to their views on the matter.
The White Paper is not about undoing or rewriting what was achieved in the Ireland Aid review in 2000; it is about improving and enhancing both the principles that underpin our programme but also enhancing the quality of the programme we deliver for developing countries. If we do not do that and oversee and plan carefully the expansion of the programme, we would do a disservice to taxpayers but more critically to the people to whom we give this aid.
It is important to remember the sheer, stark figures required for the achievement of the 0.7% in ODA. We are talking about moving from a contribution of €545 million to in excess of €1.3 billion. The sum of €1.3 billion is not small, it is a significant sum. I noted with interest the suggestion that there is no capacity constraint. It goes without saying that if one moves to a position of doubling one’s budget that capacity, resource and other issues regarding the achievement of value for money and the efficacy of what is spent will obviously arise. It is not rocket science. People who state that it is possible to move from a position of spending €545 million to spending €1.3 billion in one fell swoop are talking utter nonsense. We must plan carefully for what we spend and have a stepped approach.
I am aware of the Development Co-operation Ireland staffing and resources issue. Senator McDowell made a fair point but the figures he quoted are in respect of the achievement of the 0.7% goal. The embargo on Civil Service recruitment will expire at the end of the year. I accept there are staff and resource restraints at present in the Department and look forward to the end of the year when these issues can be resolved through further recruitment of staff.
I have probably exhausted the Acting Chairman’s patience. The commitment to 0.7% in ODA was made in 2000 at a time and place when economic optimism here was unbridled. It was made as a moral commitment and remains a moral commitment which we will redeem and achieve. We would do no service to anybody by achieving it in an unplanned fashion. In fairness to the Taoiseach, it was a moral commitment which he made from a wellspring of idealism——
Mr. C. Lenihan: The idealism stemmed from our desire to focus on our international obligations. We will become a net contributor to the European Union and as we step up to the rostrum to do that we must also fulfil our international commitments. The Taoiseach’s commitment in 2000 was a brave one which has energised the whole area of development aid, as is obvious from the debate this evening. More people are discussing the issue and the volume of overseas development aid is significantly increasing. It has tripled since the coalition Government came to power in 1997. That speaks volumes for the Government’s policy on overseas development aid.
Mr. Ryan: I am anxious to keep the tone of the debate constructive and appropriate. The Minister of State is welcome but his speech was provocative and would be offensive to many of the people working in the NGO sector. It was full of the most extraordinarily selective references to other people’s views of Ireland, many of which were expressed at a time when we were still trumpeting our commitments to the UN target by 2007.
I am fascinated by the Government’s decision to measure our generosity against the meanness of the world rather than against the instincts of our people, which we have witnessed. As I said in the House when we were debating the tsunami, for the United States as a country to match the generosity of the Irish people it would have had to pledge some US$5 billion or US$6 billion dollars to the tsunami disaster relief. It is offensive to Irish people to suggest we are doing well because we are doing better than a collection of countries that are characterised by miserable, limited, unimaginative and usually politically charged masquerades for ODA. To suggest that that should be our index is to insult the whole concept of our development programme.
It is worth repeating what Senator Quinn stated. He is not a politically partisan individual. He is a man who takes his own position. He stated that when he heard what we were doing he felt a sense of shame and betrayal. That is what one feels tonight. Dressed up in a long speech is a sense that we have walked away from our commitment. In 2000 the Taoiseach promised we would meet the target by 2007. That was a seven-year target. In early 2005 the best the Minister of State can do is hope we will reach it by 2013, which is another eight years. We have retreated from a position where we were going to do it in seven years to one where we will do it in 15 years. After he said that, he mentioned a moral commitment. It is a peculiar concept of a moral commitment which means that we are not really bound by it, as distinct presumably from some other kind of commitment where we are bound by it. That is what he said. A moral commitment was made in 2000. It was made in the United Nations when the Government wanted the prestige of membership of the Security Council and it promised every developing country that wanted to listen and that might consider voting for us that we would reach the target by 2007. Those of us who had to deal with the Government in the recent general election are aware that this is not an occasional or exceptional position; it is standard practice for the Government. Let us also remember that this commitment was made to the poor of the world in an international forum and we walked away from it.
The Minister of State gave a wonderful quotation just after he commented on Senator Quinn’s remarks to the effect that a major threat to the viability of any organisation is rapid, unplanned growth and expansion, about which we all know. However, the Minister of State would have us believe that rapid and unplanned are the same thing. Unplanned growth in the economy or any other sphere is full of risks, but that is not the same as rapid growth.
For five years we have had a commitment to reach a target. There has been plenty of time to plan and organise it. Many NGOs are adamant in their assertion that they can handle that level of aid and there are sufficient target countries with sufficiently developed institutional structures to handle the increased amount. It is gratuitously offensive of the Minister of State to suggest that Senator Quinn’s remarks about writing the cheque were not very thoughtful, given his expertise in these areas.
Programmes such as the HIV-AIDS programme have an endless appetite for money and it would be universally used well because of their nature. There are structured and staffed programmes which could expand dramatically if the funding was available, but are constrained by the absence of basic resources. For example, fundamental primary care programmes involving activity like oral re-hydration therapy and the provision of simple, cheap clean water all over the world could be funded now.
Therefore, it is disingenuous and unworthy of the Minister of State to insert arguments like that into what has been up to now a political consensus about ODA. I still do not know when precisely the Government decided it would dump this target. I am beginning to suspect it was the day after the Taoiseach left South Africa and made the commitment the second time. I suspect the Government decided at that stage that it would not do so and left it until after the general election to address. We then had the little hiccup and two arguments. It is a wonderful thing that in 2002 we could not meet the target because we were too poor and in 2004 we could not meet it because we were too rich. One of those arguments is untrue.
The biggest problem about the debate and dealing with the Government and Minister of State is that we cannot deal with the issue because of the tangents on which they are embarking. The NGOs are criticised for their lobbying because without them the Minister of State would not suffer the daily embarrassment he is enduring.
Mr. Ryan: It is claimed that the development movement is not giving value for money. Everyone knows that the development movement, through multilateral organisations, has been very poor. However, vast numbers of people working in development could use four times the amount of money they have and give us an enormous multiple effect in terms of development. It would help this debate enormously if we could get a coherent position from the Government — a coherent target not so far in the future that I will definitely have left politics along with many of those making the promise. We might not make it next year or the year after but 2010 is the upper limit of a renewed commitment. The year 2013 is so far away that it will leave billions dead.
Mr. Lydon: It is worth reminding ourselves that, from its very modest beginnings in 1974, the Government’s official development co-operation programme last year spent €475 million and we will spend upwards of €1.8 billion on development assistance between 2005 and 2007. This will place us among the world’s most generous donor countries. Responsibility for foreign policy rests with the Minister for Foreign Affairs but within that Department, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is in charge of development co-operation. He is doing a very good job. Like Senator Mooney, I abhorred his pillorying in the press at the time of the tsunami disaster, which was totally unfounded and unjustified.
The reduction of poverty in its various manifestations is and will remain the overarching objective for Development Cooperation Ireland. The problems afflicting development companies have never been greater. As a nation which has known hardship throughout its own history but has also experienced prosperity in recent times, we now make a very significant contribution which helps millions of poor people around the world to escape the daily grind of poverty and disadvantage.
DCI works in co-operation with governments in other countries and other donors, NGOs and international organisations as part of the global effort to achieve the millennium development goals to which the Minister of State referred. It is worth reminding ourselves of what these involve — the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health; to combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and to ensure environmental stability and develop a global partnership for development. The millennium development goals provide the context in which the DCI priority sectors are decided. These include education, health, HIV-AIDS, agriculture and food security, water and sanitation infrastructure and roads, trades and development.
Since 1997, the Government has spent more than €2.4 billion on ODA. Between 1997 and 2007, the aid programme will have quadrupled. Despite all the talk, we are one of the world’s most generous aid donors — well above the European average of 0.35%. Ireland is fifth in a list of who gives how much as a percentage of gross national income. Denmark donates 0.96%, Norway, 0.91%, the Netherlands, 0.82%, and Sweden, 0.74%, all of which are very high figures. Ireland is next with a figure of 0.41%, followed by France at 0.36%, Finland, 0.35%, Switzerland, 0.32%, United Kingdom, 0.3%, Canada, 0.28%, Germany, 0.27%, Spain, 0.25%, Japan, 0.23%, Italy, 0.2%, and so on.
These figures in themselves do not always contain a great deal of information. For example, the figure for the United States is only 0.12% of its gross national income but amounts to $20.4 billion. Sometimes one must look inside the figures to see what is happening. Our total spending last year was €475 million, some €400 million of which was spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs through the programmes funded by Development Cooperation Ireland. The remaining €75 million is disbursed to international organisations such as the World Bank and the World Food Programme through other Departments’ Votes.
The Minister of State mentioned Mr. Wolfensohn’s fine and deserved comments about the Irish contribution. The largest share of the money, with an expected outturn of €150 million, went to seven programme countries, which are the chief focus of Ireland’s aid programme, namely, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia and East Timor. In 2001, we opened an office in Dili.
We also provide humanitarian assistance to Palestine, to a number of projects in eastern Europe, the former CIS states and, in addition to the longer term development programmes, we respond to emergencies, for example, in the recent past significant humanitarian aid has been delivered to Afghanistan, southern Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur in Sudan and, more recently, on the Caribbean islands of Grenada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic following the recent hurricanes. There is no doubt that we contribute a great deal of money and work very hard. Ireland is involved in many good programmes, including recovery training and sectorial development, amounting to approximately €75 million. A major element under this heading is combating the surge in the number of HIV-AIDS infections. Ireland also assists new states. Last year, I had the honour of representing Ireland at the Asian-European parliamentary conference. At the subsequent Asian-European ministerial conference, the Taoiseach announced that Ireland planned to open an embassy in Vietnam and begin a full development programme there. Vietnam’s neighbouring states, Laos and Cambodia, will also be a focus of this programme. There will be a fresh look at the possibility of more long-term co-operation with countries in west Africa. A new development office will open in several months in Sierra Leone, which will also deal with Liberia.
Increases of €190 million over the next three years in overseas development aid were announced in the 2005 budget. Between 2005 and 2007, the Government will spend a minimum of €1.8 billion on overseas aid. It has made an additional €10 million available for relief efforts in south Asia following the tsunami disaster. A welcome aspect of these increases is the restoration of multi-annual funding, with an increase of €60 million in 2005 and minimum increases of €65 million in 2006 and 2007. The real benefit of this three-year commitment is that Ireland and its partner countries can now strategically plan on a clear and growing financial base.
Our multilateral aid programme with UN aid agencies, the World Bank and the EU has deepened and expanded. Ireland has worked hard in various ways, particularly during its EU Presidency, to achieve a more effective response from the international system to the challenges of reducing global poverty and achieving the millennium development goals. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is doing a good job in this regard. From his commitment, everything in our power will be done to reach the levels to which we are committed. The sum of €1.8 billion is large. The work we have embarked upon is centred in many new and different states. Ireland is up there with the best of them. We are the fifth largest donor in terms of percentage of gross national income. This is even more admirable when one considers larger states below that level that do much talking but little contributing. As Senator Minihan stated, we can never be complacent. Our ambition is to increase aid to a level beyond every other state. Considering how far we have come in the past ten years, we should be proud and not complain.
Mr. Norris: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House. He has already made his case on overseas development aid to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I did not realise he had been pilloried and savaged over the Christmas, which I greatly regret. I deprecate that because I know he is a decent man and has real concerns in this area. However, I do not believe the Government’s performance is satisfactory. I am glad to see someone resemble a distinguished parent. The Minister of State, like his father, is able to put the most wonderful spin on matters. One will leave the House tonight saying we are the most generous people on earth and commenting on how the people and the Government responded to the tsunami disaster.
Senator Lydon, who I greatly respect, referred to how Ireland has established an office in East Timor. However, it is piddly when compared to the generosity of the Timorese people during the tsunami disaster. Those bankrupted, deprived and ruined people who were exploited, colonised and the victims of attempted genocide, gave $50,000 to tsunami relief funds despite their poverty and misery. That should shame us. What that figure represents for those living on such tiny incomes is magnificent. Mr. Xanana Gusmao went to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, to present it as a gesture of friendship. As we live in an interrelated world, these are the gestures we need.
I do not mean to be entirely negative when I refer to the spin, so full of glic, that the Minister of State employs. His performance was fascinating to watch when he declared the promise of 0.7% was made in the flush of economic prosperity. Was it really? What are we in now? Is the Government now saying that as a result of its policies we have gone backwards and are no longer flush? As we are doing pretty damn well, I understood the coffers were bulging.
Mr. Norris: In those circumstances, it is regrettable that the objective of achieving the 0.7% figure has stalled. For a while it even went backwards. The comparatively small amounts of money involved make it shameful.
I respect that good northside Dublin Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Like the Minister of State, he has the capacity to make one feel as one walks out of his office that one has the sun, the moon and the stars. First, the stars dissolve, then the moonlight dwindles. As things begin to get darker, one finds that one has not got everything one originally believed one had. Ireland has withdrawn from a commitment made by the Taoiseach which is unfortunate and serious. I am sure of his sincerity at the time. However, there was also some politicking as Ireland sought a seat on the UN Security Council. For promising the 0.7% figure, we got all the votes from those little countries. It was clever horse trading at which the Taoiseach is good. However, one must deliver at the end. If one does not, not only is the international community disillusioned but the national community is likewise.
Has the Minister listened to the reports of this dispute between the hospital consultants and the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children? I support the Government on this matter. It is laughable that hospital consultants who receive these enormous fees and have 80% of their insurance premia paid by the Government should object to it brokering a good deal from the British insurers. It is a daft dispute. One argument made by the consultants is that one cannot rely on politicians. The first example given was what was described as the welching on the 0.7% overseas development aid target. I doubt too many consultants were actually heartbroken over the matter. However, they used it as an example. The other example used was the matter of the release of Jerry McCabe’s killers, which is again off the table. It is interesting that the failure to reach the 0.7% target has entered the public perception as an example of how politicians cannot be trusted.
It is particularly sad when one considers AIDS infection, literacy levels and poverty in the developing world. The number of people infected with AIDS between 1990 and 2000 doubled. This is a horrifying situation when one considers that it is treatable. When AIDS first struck Ireland, I recall attending a procession of funerals for those lovely young people cut down in the flower of their youth in a most awful death. Now, those with AIDS are not dying and look as healthy as any of us because of the advances in drug treatments. The advances made in the West can be copied in Africa. We have the capacity to keep these people alive. Last night a television programme on AIDS in Africa showed an unfortunate little girl left on her own in a village. One marvellous woman, with her fantastic headgear and flamboyance, said that as all these people came to her, she had to take them in to look after them. She did so on nothing. The cost of AIDS treatment in Africa would amount to €150 million a year. Figuratively speaking it would get lost in a hole in one’s tooth. This State, and its consumer society, will not miss €150 million a year.
As an independent Senator, I sometimes support the Government and sometimes the Opposition. I often praise the Government for the good work it does in this area. However, I cannot stand this shilly-shallying. The House, through this motion, wants to support the Minister of State in increasing overseas development aid as Deputy O’Donnell did. She was fantastic in doing so and we, along with many Fianna Fáil Members, will support the Minister of State if he tries to do the same.
Some 2.2 million children die each year from a lack of immunisation, a simple injection which costs a few cents. That is where the money could go. Some 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 per day and we in this overblown, bloated economy, bulging with cash, cannot afford €150 million annually to live up to the commitment solemnly given.
That is a pity and the excuse given is bizarre. There is a kind of Swiftian irony involved. Recently I heard the argument that the real problem is that we made the promise when we were comparatively poor, although the Minister of State says the opposite. The argument is that our success means more money is involved in the contribution because it is expressed as a fraction, so that 0.3% is more now because we have a bigger income.
Mr. Norris: That is a reason for giving it. We have so much more money. The figure involved is minuscule. As there are numerals in it such as five and four and seven, we think it is a lot of money. If an individual budget were involved it would be. The figure however is 0.7%. The Bible refers to tithes, stating that if one has not fed and clothed the least of these people, out one goes. We need to look at that. Recommendations have been made.
Mr. C. Lenihan: Senator Norris was not present earlier. We have achieved the target with regard to “the least of these”, the least developed countries. The target is now 1.5% of GNP and we have achieved it, so in terms of the biblical quotation——
Dóchas, among others, has made useful recommendations. The current situation is that we will be reneging on our commitment, which is a pity. The figures represent a major shift in policy as the projected growth falls well short of what was promised. If we are to fulfil what we promised as an effective, credible and well-resourced ODA programme, we need no more broken promises, a multi-annual growth plan with clear and credible benchmarks and a clear timeframe for reaching the 0.7% target. The Minister of State will recall a point made very effectively at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs by former Minister of State, Deputy O’Donnell, that the ODA figure needs to be taken out of the annual Estimates. The wrangling is thereby avoided. Legislation is also needed to ensure that having given the commitment, we go for it.
We will get political kudos if we live up to our commitment. We are a very small country with a reputation for generosity. Let us not lose that. The annual sum of €150 million is meagre. Let us live up to the commitment and again become leaders.
I will address the issue often raised, namely that of capacity and whether we can cope with this commitment. Yes, we can. Clear evidence was provided to back this up. I do not have time to develop this theme but anyone interested should read the record of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, where representatives of the NGOs made it clear that saying the recipients of the money could not possibly cope with it, and that it would destroy them, is rubbish. We have that on good authority and we have an analysis of the figures, so the Minister of State should not offend our intelligence. We are well capable of reading the records mentioned.
Mr. C. Lenihan: On a point of information, Jeffrey Sachs accepts in his report that there is an absorption capacity issue even with regard to the millennium development goals in Africa. He predicates it on a capability of 30% more in terms of absorption capacity. If that is so, we cannot increase it by 40%.
Mr. Norris: It would be well worth trying. To me, the real experts are the people on the ground. If the Minister of State has any difficulty in finding absorption I can produce God’s quantity of good projects where one will get a bounce for one’s buck for any spare capacity. The Minister of State can tell that to Mr. Sachs of whom I have never heard. Is he part of Goldman Sachs?
Ms Ormonde: I wish to share my time with Senator Mansergh. Before I came to the House this evening I did not do much thinking on whether we have lived up to our ODA commitment. However, I am delighted to see the figure of €1.8 billion projected over the next three years and that the commitment will be made to reach the United Nations target. That is where we are coming from in this debate.
I listened to what everyone said here tonight about the amount promised this year and so much promised last year. The tsunami disaster occurred just after Christmas and everybody went to help as best they could in terms of reaching out to those in need. I was amazed. I went to Rathfarnham shopping centre two days after St. Stephen’s Day and there was a queue a mile long to contribute. Ireland is a model country. We rise to the occasion whenever we must.
Ms Ormonde: My friends did not know what I was talking about, but they knew about the tsunami disaster. They know that we must give money to eradicate the poverty among poor nations. They want to help. However, they asked how the money we allocate is being spent. Maybe we have not reached our target but perhaps some of the money going to ODA annually is not being properly spent or properly managed. I do not know, but questions are being asked.
I should have started by welcoming the Minister of State to the house and wishing him well. I know he will do a good job. However, the White Paper of which he speaks may be another way of creating awareness so that the public may say that while we have not reached our target we will do so. The public would like to know what we are doing in terms of overseas aid. I want to talk to some group about this matter but my knowledge has been limited. The Minister of State should use his time to tell the world that Ireland is number five on that contributor list and is as good as the best in reaching out.
I was in South Africa two or three weeks ago. I met missionary workers there who talked about the programmes in which they were involved. I asked them how they became involved. They had to find out about the work through indirect means. I spoke to a teacher recently who had to take early retirement and told her that there was a golden opportunity for someone like her to go abroad to help for two months of the year. She said she loved the idea but did not even know how to go about such matters.
While we talk of the White Paper, the consultative process, the proposals for progress, whether it be on HIV, education, health services, water schemes, sewerage schemes or whatever, there are people who leave work at the age of 55 and do not then want to take up a regular job. They want to change career paths. Here is a golden opportunity to involve people. That is what I want for the money being spent. We all know the commitment is there. We may not have reached it, but quality is about the way in which our money is being spent.
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. Today we have an ODA programme of which we can be proud. I would like us to go on making progress and do better, but we are doing well. The EU target, for example, is 0.39% of GNP by 2007 and we are already past that point. As far as promises are concerned, obviously the Opposition wishes to make a political point. However, I will do them the credit of believing that, like me, they genuinely and sincerely want to see the target reached as soon as possible.
I have been looking up Garret FitzGerald’s autobiography. There was a Government decision in November 1973 to raise overseas development aid by 0.05% a year. In 1982, the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition promised to reach 0.7% by 1987. When the national coalition came to power in 1994, it was to go up by 0.05% a year and should have reached 0.4% by 1997. Deputy Burton and the Government got the figure up to 0.3% and I am not disposed to criticise her. She did her best during that time and I have the height of respect for her. She and her husband had worked on overseas development on the ground. It is quite difficult and all countries have had the experience of raising spending to the level that one would wish.
Jeffrey Sachs, who we all ought to know is the millennium development goals special envoy, wants every country to achieve a target of 0.5% of GNP by 2015. I quoted from the interview in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the last occasion that I spoke on this subject. He said that, if all countries could do that, it would help achieve the millennium development goals. We had an interim target before of 0.45% and we should set another because I do not believe we will achieve it all in one go. The obvious interim target, as I said in the debate on the tsunami, is 0.5%.
I hope that it might be possible for us to achieve that by the end of the Government’s term in office. I would like us to be out among the leaders — the four or five countries that are over 0.7% — as soon as possible. I greatly welcome the way in which, perhaps because of the tsunami disaster, development assistance has received political attention and priority. However, it has to compete against many other areas. There are many good and worthwhile causes and it is not realistic to pick out one area of Government policy and fix it legislatively. The same case could be made on behalf of disability and several other sectors.
We have a very good programme and have made great progress in the past ten or 12 years. However, it will need sustained political will. The Minister and his Department can be sure of my complete support in the internal battles that he will have to fight.
It is clear that we in Ireland, a country that has suffered its own share of poverty and famine, have a special obligation to contribute to a more just world and the Irish aid programme is a key part. We can all be proud of the excellent work of Development Cooperation Ireland, the agency responsible. It is now under the good leadership of the Minister of State, having previously been the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt. There has been a special focus on quality rather than quantity, while at the same time having a sustained increase in the budget for overseas development over the past five years. Although members of the Opposition seem to think that the problems of the developing world can be addressed by throwing more money in their direction, the Government has focused on ensuring that Irish taxpayers’ money makes a difference on the ground in some of the world’s poorest regions.
I am proud to say that I speak from experience on this matter. I have visited one of the Irish programme countries, Lesotho, on two occasions. I know that the Minister of State returned from there only a few weeks ago. It is a small country in southern Africa and our first priority country when we commenced the development co-operation programme back in the 1970s. However, notwithstanding our presence in Lesotho for almost 30 years, it is still among the poorest in the world. What does that tell us? It tells me very clearly that money is not all that is needed. It is also clear that there are no easy answers to the problem of world poverty and those who claim otherwise are not being honest and simply do not understand the complex nature of the deep poverty in Africa and elsewhere. The average African is now poorer than 30 years ago, notwithstanding the billions of dollars in aid given to the continent over the period.
Something more must be done. We need a fresh type of international partnership, innovation and new thinking based not on the charity model but on the understanding that international co-operation is about partnership and solidarity between the rich countries of the north and the poorer ones of the south. In Ireland we can see the emergence of a new recognition among our European partners and those in the United States that conditions in the rest of the world really matter economically, ethically and in security terms. We know that the best way to counter international terrorism is through the support and development of peace and security. They are the most important links in any chain.
I know from my visit to Lesotho that the Irish programme is doing just that and I have seen that we are putting programmes in place that support the basic needs for access to health care, education and clean water. I have visited, as I am sure the Minister of State has, schools and clinics built with Irish taxpayers’ money. Sadly, I have also visited the orphanages established to cope with the unfortunate increase in the number of orphans as a result of HIV-AIDS, which is rampant in that little country.
In that context, it is only fair to mention the upcoming visit of the president of Lesotho next week, in which I know the Minister of State is involved. It is the first official visit from that country. It goes back to when the Taoiseach visited Lesotho in 2000. When I was there, people would bow before one to give thanks for the wonderful work that one was doing for them. I know how committed the Minister of State is, having spoken to him on many levels about overseas development and his support for it. I know that the Government is committed. Like other speakers from this side, I feel that we should be talking more about congratulating ourselves on the wonderful structure that we have in place and how the programme is working out. When one talks to NGOs and the recipients of that aid on the ground, one sees that it works. Perhaps if the Opposition had thought about quality rather than quantity, it would not have tabled this motion tonight.
Mr. McDowell: I thank all those who contributed to the debate, which has been interesting and useful, a measure of the commitment on all sides of the House to meeting the goals set by the Government at the earliest opportunity. A number of interesting points were made to which I wish to refer briefly.
Senator Feeney made an interesting and thoughtful contribution, although I profoundly disagree with her last comment. She said rightly, however, that this is not just about money. Other serious issues arise about governance, corruption, money being siphoned off and trade which impact seriously on development in the Third World, but we should not use those issues as an excuse not to spend money because money is also essential. We can achieve a great deal by writing the cheque. Debt relief is largely about writing the cheque. Providing the drugs that are life-saving in many African countries is about writing the cheque.
There are issues with capacity which relate in no small measure to our ability, for example, to provide the staff in Development Cooperation Ireland — that was mentioned during the course of the debate — but they are not such as to prevent us meeting the target set by the Taoiseach or act as an excuse for not making the sort of progress we should be making. Senator Mansergh made an interesting point when he said that Governments over the years had difficulty meeting the targets. He is right. Government after Government set targets and missed them. Perhaps we are thinking about this issue in the wrong way. In a sense we are thinking about it as being the cream on the top of the milk. If we can spend whatever we want on every domestic programme on which we want to spend money, we will use whatever is left over for the poor of the Third World.
I genuinely thought the Taoiseach’s commitment in 2000 signalled a shift in priorities and political will in that from then on we recognised that this was a priority all of us wanted to meet and would meet. That has been the major failing of the past five years because it is clear that political will no longer exists. That is a great pity because the reality is that domestic demand will always be greater. There will always be something we can put higher on the priority list than the poor of the Third World. The only way to deal with it is to say, in legislation or otherwise, that this is a firm commitment which we will meet come what may.
It is a pity the Minister of State repeated the two central excuses that were offered by Government in explaining the reason it has resiled from this commitment. He said, yet again, that unforeseen economic circumstances intervened at some point between 2000 and now to explain it. That is simply not true.
Mr. McDowell: We expected and hoped in 2000 that we would have year on year growth of about 5%, and we did. We are where we expected and hoped to be economically. We always knew the figures and the volume. We knew we would be talking about a doubling of aid. It could not have come as a surprise to anybody. It certainly did not come as a surprise to the Minister’s colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs. We knew the commitment we were making. It is now what it was then, and we knew then what we know now. That excuse does not explain the failure of the Government and the deception it has engaged in over that time.
Senator Mooney said in his thoughtful contribution that he hoped that by the end of this Government we would be within shouting distance — I think that was the phrase he used — of the 0.7% target. The sad fact is that we will not. GNP figures are consumer price index related and therefore to stay where we are, with 5% growth, we must increase it by approximately 8% or 9% per year. We are talking about an increase of 10% over the next two or three years. If we make just the minimum commitment we are talking about, the €60 million or €65 million over the next few years, we will be at 0.43% in 2007. If we continue at that rate, not only will we be gone from politics, most of us will be gone from this earth by the time we meet the commitment. It requires a serious ratcheting up of money if we are to have any hope of meeting this commitment not in 2007, but in 2009 or 2010.
I am disappointed the Minister of State repeated his target of 2012 or 2013. That is far too long away. Most Members of this House and elsewhere could live with the target being missed by one, two or three years but to postpone it by up to eight years beyond the original target is not acceptable.
I thank those who contributed to the debate. Looking at it positively, it is one more stage in trying to build the political consensus and will, which is the fundamental sine quo non of meeting our commitments. Without a commitment on a cross-party basis, we will never meet the target. Perhaps this debate will serve as one extra rung on the ladder in terms of getting us there.
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brennan, Michael.|
|Callanan, Peter.||Cox, Margaret.|
|Daly, Brendan.||Dardis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Fitzgerald, Liam.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hayes, Maurice.|
|Kett, Tony.||Leyden, Terry.|
|Lydon, Donal J.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Minihan, John.|
|Mooney, Paschal C.||Morrissey, Tom.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Walsh, Jim.||Walsh, Kate.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bannon, James.||Browne, Fergal.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Finucane, Michael.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Henry, Mary.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McDowell, Derek.|
|McHugh, Joe.||Norris, David.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
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