Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - HEDCO Funding.

23.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether HEDCO is at a severe disadvantage to other national third level development agencies as a result of the severe cutbacks it has suffered by the reduction and final elimination of its administrative grant and the total axing last year of its small projects allocation.

I do not consider that HEDCO is at a disadvantage relative to other national third level development agencies as a result of recent funding decisions. For more general reasons it should still be well placed to compete for international development contracts.

As the Deputy will be aware, HEDCO has received an administration grant through the Department of Foreign Affairs since 1978. In addition, it has received fees from our bilateral aid programme for the management of higher education projects in the Third World. In recent years it has won European Community development contracts.

It is reasonable that HEDCO, which is a promotional body acting on behalf of the universities and other third-level institutions which make up its membership, should have received assistance by way of an administration grant in its early years but it would not be feasible to continue this type of funding from official sources on a permanent basis. A review of HEDCO in 1985 recommended a change in the basis of funding. This change, from outright administration grants to fees for project management, has been implemented gradually over the period since 1986 in order to allow HEDCO to adjust to the new arrangement.

As the administration grant has been gradually phased out since 1986 the management fees paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs to HEDCO have increased — from £18,000 in 1986 to approximately £90,000 in 1989. The so-called small projects scheme received £70,000 in 1987 but it had to be suspended in 1988 because of budgetary constraints.

The total funding, taking administration grants and management fees together, which HEDCO will receive from official sources in 1989 is an estimated £118,000. This compares with total official funding of £135,000 in 1986. However, funding will be less in 1990 because the reductions which it has been necessary to make in our bilateral aid programme mean that there is not the same opportunity to earn managements fees from new projects.

However, it is also open to HEDCO to compete for international development management contracts and it is, in my view, well placed to do so. In this, it can draw on the long and distinguished tradition of Irish educators in Africa and elsewhere, the excellent quality of our third level institutions, and the high acceptability of Irish personnel in developing countries due to the absence of a colonial past.

May I let the Minister of State know that his view that HEDCO is not severly disadvantaged is certainly not shared by HEDCO, or indeed by most of the other agencies who work here or abroad who enjoy substantial State funding? In replying the Minister referred to the review of HEDCO which had taken place in 1985. Will he not admit to the House that, arising out of that review, his Department gave two commitments to HEDCO — one, being that while there might be changes effected in their administration grant such would be done only after discussion, with full acknowledgment of their integral role in the bilateral aid programme and, second, that acknowledgement of the fact they were no longer to be funded by APSO, there would be a commitment to give them a small projects grant——

I want to assist the Deputy but she appears to be imparting information rather than seeking it.

I am asking the Minister to admit to the House that both of those commitments have been broken, that HEDCO has been one of the softest and most damaged targets of the cutbacks effected in the bilateral aid programme.

I am sorry to have to disagree with a Member as nice as Deputy Flaherty. However, of all the agencies under the aegis of my Department I have had more contact, discussion and consultation with HEDCO. Therefore, for Deputy Flaherty to suggest that my Department reneged on their commitment is certainly bending the truth. Perhaps the Deputy would look at the agreement initiated in 1985 and talk to her colleague on her right.

It is a matter of public record.

Then she will ascertain the correct position. I reject totally the suggestion that my Department reneged on any commitments given to HEDCO.