Adjournment Debate. - Third World Aid.

Deputy Griffin has given me notice of his intention to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of aid to the Third World under the UNICEF Emergency Fund. May I suggest that the Deputy be given eight minutes to make his case and the Minister four minutes to reply? That is the best we can do in the circumstances.

I should like to thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for having given me this opportunity, on my fifth request, to raise the subject matter of my Private Notice Question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs which reads:

In view of the grave warning contained in the UNICEF Report published recently, if aid is to be effective, it must start immediately and continue unabated for 12 months; and in order to avoid death and the mass migration of starving peoples, especially in Ethiopia, if the Minister would now inform the House if it is his intention to make an immediate response to the UNICEF Emergency Fund; furthermore, whether he would impress on his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the absolute need to restore to 1986 levels the grant-in-aid to the World Food Programme.

That is the subject matter of the debate on the Adjournment. I regret that it has taken so long to bring it to this House because it is a very urgent and critical area. Reports have emanated from Ethiopia where, we are reliably informed, as we speak people are dying and there are six million people in need of urgent assistance, one million of whom are children. I regret that there has been a reduction in the ODA assistance in the Estimates for 1988. There has been a reduction of £11 million, from £43 million to £32 million and this has affected in particular the disaster area fund and the world food programme which gives aid to Ethiopia. I hope the Minister present will bring to the notice of the Cabinet and necessity and the need to restore these two funds, at least to their 1986 levels.

Recently we received a report from the representatives of UNICEF in Ethiopia and they asked us to impress on the Government and on the people of Ireland the absolute need for immediate action. Every day people are dying of starvation and any delay whatsoever will cause untold hardship and death. There is nothing more urgent than a dying Ethiopian mother with a babe at her breast. That is real urgency. As I have said, I regret that it took so long to bring this matter to the House. Nevertheless I am pleased to have this opportunity to bring it to the attention of the Minister, the Government and the Irish people. The Irish people have continually responded very favourably and charitably to the needs of the Third World.

Three years ago Bob Geldof organised a fund to which the Irish people contributed £7 million. More recently, in Trócaire's lenten appeal this year, people contributed another £2.8 million. The Government have the moral backing and support of the Irish people in this matter. Perhaps it is a throw-back to our own historical past and famine days that strikes a sympathetic and charitable chord in the Irish subconsciousness that they wish to give to the deserving poor of the Third World.

In a poll conducted last year 83 per cent of the Irish people indicated that, despite our own economic position, recession and difficulties, they would still like the Government to continue to give, and to increase if possible, aid to the Third World. That is the main thrust of my purpose this evening — to urge immediate action on this matter. I hope that, if there are any moneys left in the 1987 Estimates, from no matter what Vote or section in the International Co-operation Vote, the Minister will see to it that it is immediately transferred to aid for Ethiopia.

We have been told that on account of the drought and the civil war in that country innocent people are in a terrible plight and are living in terrible conditions. I urge the Minister to convey to the Cabinet the absolute necessity of ensuring that funds are made available to the many relief agencies working in Ethiopia, from Trócaire to UNICEF and many other splendid bodies. He will have the satisfaction of knowing he is doing so with the full support of the Irish people who have contributed to that cause down through the years. Various personnel go to that country as teachers, religious people of all denominations and lay volunteers. Not only are they prepared to give money but they are also prepared to give their lives working for this cause, to alleviate famine and to bring help to those in need.

I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter. I hope the response from the Minister will be a positive one and that we will see action immediately put in train to give as much financial support as possible to Ethiopia. There is a great urgency about this matter. It would be pointless to bring aid tomorrow to a person who is dying today. That would be of no assistance whatsoever to him. Immediate action should be taken to give aid to Ethiopia and that is the kernel of the discussion this evening.

First, I thank Deputy Griffin for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, I share his concern.

Contributions to the world food programme are pledged every two years by countries who are members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. As a member country of the FAO, Ireland pledged a sum of £2.953 million for the two years 1987 and 1988. This sum was promised at the 12th World Food Programme Pledging Conference in New York in March 1986 — the amount to be paid in two instalments of £1.453 million in 1987 and £1.5 million in 1988. One-third of our contribution is paid in cash to cover administrative and freight costs and the balance is spent on commodities made available to the world food programme.

Our cash contribution for 1987 of £483,000 has been paid to the world food programme and 1,400 tonnes of skim milk powder at a total cost of £871,000 have been supplied to the world food programme projects in Vietnam, Angola, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Arrangements are being made to supply a further 174 tonnes of skim milk powder to Nicaragua in the near future. Ireland has thus fulfilled to the letter its pledge to the world food programme for 1987 both in cash and commodities.

As regards 1988, we all know that firm steps have had to be taken to reduce public expenditure and, in common with all official expenditure, spending on overseas aid has had to be looked at. Unfortunately and regrettably our projected expenditure of £1.5 million on our pledge to the world food programme has had to be cancelled. Of course, the world food programme has not been singled out. In fact, the withdrawal of the world food programme contribution is part of the overall reduction which was found to be necessary in official development assistance in 1988. Overall ODA has been reduced by 26 per cent to £32 million for 1988.

The aid distributed by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the form of bi-lateral assistance that is, help given directly by this country to third world countries, has also been reduced. I may add that in any case where we have entered into binding agreements to furnish aid, as, for instance, under an EC regulation, we will of course honour our commitments.

The technical assistance which we provide to Third World countries is still standing and, as the Deputy rightly pointed out, we in Ireland have never been found wanting in our assistance to our less well off neighbours in other countries. Our strategy in Government is to get the economy in order so that we will be in a position to give more generous and more favourable aid when finances allow. I will certainly be seeking to ensure that that is done. The decision to withdraw aid from under-developed countries has been a most difficult one but the state of our public finances is now such that very hard decisions have had to be taken.

I am very disappointed with the Minister's reply. He has not addressed the issue which I raised.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 4 December 1987.