Ceisteanna-Questions. Oral Answers. - Government Aid to Somalia.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

6 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the total amount of official aid made available by the Government to relieve the current famine in Somalia; the source of such funding; whether further contributions will be made in 1992; and if, in the light of appalling famine and poverty throughout the Third World, he will give a commitment to achieve the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP within a specified time, by minimum annual increases.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if following his two visits to Somalia, the Government is considering any specific measures to assist with the crisis there; if, in view of the seriousness of the crisis, the Government will consider matching, pound for pound, money raised by voluntary agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mary Flaherty

Question:

37 Miss Flaherty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the progress in the deployment of United Nations troops in Somalia and their progress in securing food supplies.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 11 and 37 together.

I welcome this opportunity to brief the Dáil on my two visits to Somalia, the most recent being when I accompanied President Robinson there.

Earlier this year, I had a meeting with the Irish Aid Agencies who are particularly active on the ground in Somalia. They told me that a grave human catastrophe was unfolding. At their request, I visited Somalia last August. Although I had been warned of what to expect, the situation which I witnessed in Somalia was horrifying beyond description. I came away convinced that more must be done. I immediately contacted the Secretary General of the United Nations and my fellow EC Foreign Ministers and urged them to step up their efforts on behalf of Somalia. Subsequently, I made the situation in Somalia the main theme of my address to the UN General Assembly.

I accompanied the President to Somalia and from there to New York where we reported on the situation to the United Nations Secretary General, Dr. Boutros Ghali. We briefed him on what we had seen, on the inadequacy of the supplies getting through to those in need and on the unacceptable security situation. We made clear the necessity for a greater, and better co-ordinated, humanitarian effort. We emphasised that excellent work was being done by nonGovernmental organisations, including many Irish representatives and by organisations such as the Red Cross, Concern, Trócaire, Goal, UNICEF, World Vision and many other organisations who have committed themselves to alleviating the devastation in Somalia.

At the Birmingham Summit, following a proposal which I made to my colleagues, the European Council adopted a strongly worded declaration on Somalia.

Throughout, it has been my concern: to encourage the developed countries to maintain and increase their rate of disbursement of aid; to address the security issue and in particular to press for the quickest deployment of the UN security personnel authorised by the Security Council; and to give all possible support to the efforts under way to achieve a political resolution.

I regret that the security situation has continued to deteriorate. Troops said to be loyal to former President Siad Barre have attacked and seized the town of Bardera, badly disrupting the relief effort there and spreading despair in the surrounding area. Today, the newspapers report direct threats to the safety of aid workers in Somalia.

Progress in the deployment of United Nations troops in Somalia continues to be extremely slow. The first 500 UNOSOM troops have arrived in Mogadishu. I have stressed to the Secretary General of the UN the necessity for the urgent deployment of more troops and will continue to do so. Reports from Mogadishu indicate that the situation at the port and at the airport continues to be extremely bad and supplies are not getting through.

Agreement has yet to be secured from the factions concerned to enable the deployment of the troops at Kismayo and Hargeisa. The UN is in discussion with the Kenyan authorities on the deployment of troops on the Kenyan side of the border near Mandera.

Deputies will be aware that Ambassador Sahnoun, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, has resigned from his position. I hope that his successor, Ambassador Kittani, will pursue the achievement of peace and the delivery of humanitarian assistance with the same determination and courage as Ambassador Sahnoun. I regret the resignation of Ambassador Sahnoun and share his dismay at the inability of the developed world to respond properly to the tragedy of Somalia.

The Government have made available a total of £655,000 from the disaster relief fund to the relief agencies working in Somalia and with Somalia refugees. I have also allocated £125,000 from the bilateral aid fund for an agricultural rehabilitation programme in Baidoa. In addition, of course, Ireland contributes its proportionate share to the cost of EC programmes in Somalia.

As regards the idea of the Government matching contributions raised by the voluntary agencies on a pound for pound basis, I repeat my commitment to achieving the UN target of devoting 0.7 per cent of GNP to ODA as quickly as improving economic and financial circumstances permit.

My remarks may appear to be critical but I congratulate the Minister for his personal interest in this matter. We are also proud of President Robinson in relation to what she has done in Somalia. However, will the Minister agree that the Government have been less than forthcoming in supporting the effort he made on a personal level? Our efforts at national level are a disgrace and this has been mirrored by what happened at the United Nations, where there seems to be hopeless bureaucracy. The ambassador who was trying to do something was fired and security for protecting food in transit is terrible. Will the Minister confirm that there is not a supplementary budget to provide extra money for Somalia and that we have been involved in robbing hungry Peter to pay starving Paul? Similarly, there has not been effective action at international level to cope with the greatest calamity in the world for a long time.

I do not agree with the Deputy as, with respect, he has not painted a fair picture. On the question of increasing overseas development assistance, I do not disagree that 0.7 per cent is low. I would have thought that the Taoiseach's Bodenstown speech would have put the matter in perspective in that regard when he indicated that we would be increasing our overseas development aid to a relatively reasonable figure next budget time. He said it was hoped thereafter to have an annual increase based on the financial exigencies of the day. Whoever might be my successor in office I should like to foresee a .05 per cent increase on an annual basis.

Is that a commitment?

I am not going to give a commitment; it would be utterly wrong of me to do so. I cannot look into the future but I can give the commitment that there will be an increase in overseas development aid next budget time as far as the Fianna Fáil Government are concerned. I will not give any commitment in regard to the amount.

The time for dealing with priority questions has long been exhausted.

I thought we had agreed to continue.

On a point of order——

I cannot entertain the Deputy, I am very sorry.

A Cheann Comhairle, I thought we had all agreed.

Let us not make a mockery of priority questions. I am calling Question No. 10.

We had agreed to extend the time to complete them.

The Chair has to have regard to Standing Orders.

I must say I share the Deputies' views but I will not argue with the Chair.

Peter Barry

Question:

10 Mr. Barry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, by reducing the costs of passports in the winter months, he intends to encourage more applications in this period so as to alleviate the strain on the system in the peak summer period; if he will bring the Cork office to full passport status as this will also help to relieve pressure in the Dublin office.

I can confirm that the £10 reduction in the standard passport fee during the months of October and November is aimed at encouraging more applications during the low-season and so relieve the strain on the system during the peak summer period.

The response to date has been quite encouraging. Overall there has been an increase of about one-third in standard passport applications received during the month of October compared to the same month last year. We are continuing to advertise the scheme. We hope that as many people as possible will avail of it.

As to bringing the Cork office to full passport status, I agree that this would help to relieve pressure on the Dublin office. For a number of technical reasons, it would not be possible to implement such a change immediately. However, a major computer upgrading project for the Passport Office is currently at an advanced stage of planning and, as part of this project, it is envisaged that computer facilities will be installed in the Cork office in late 1994. At that time, I would anticipate a positive decision on upgrading the Cork office to the status of a full passport-issuing office.

I might add that in 1992, over 20 days in Dublin, there were 6,187 applications; in 1991, over 22 days, there were 5,060 applications. The daily average in 1992 was 309 and the daily average in 1991 was 230. Therefore it will clearly be seen that the low-season reduction offer has been an outstanding success. I predict that that type of offer would have been equally successful in other areas. I should like to confirm that we are reviewing the passport position nationwide, for example to render it easier for people in the Munster area to have as their headquarters the Cork office without the inconvenience of having to travel to Dublin. We are taking a look at Galway as headquarters for Connacht and so on. We would hope to satisfactorily restructure the position for the convenience of citizens.

Does the Minister consider that the Cork passport office has been a success and has considerably relieved the pressure on the Dublin office? Would the Minister now consider upgrading the Cork office to a full passport office?

Yes, I do consider the Cork office as having been a success. It is my intention to upgrade it to a full office in late 1994. While that might not be considered satisfactory from the Deputy's point of view it is the best we can do bearing in mind what we have been endeavouring on the computer front.

Would the Minister consider opening passport offices in other parts of the country? The Minister will be aware that considerable inconvenience is caused people who must travel to obtain passports.

I have just said that that is my intention. There is a plan afoot in my Department aimed at rendering passport offices user citizen friendly. It is my intention to upgrade the Cork office to render it easier for the people of Munster; to upgrade the Galway office to render it easier for the people of Connacht and so on. It would be my hope, or that of my successor, whoever he or she may be, to have that in place by late 1994.

Would the Minister say whether the fee reduction is applicable to applicants from Northern Ireland? In addition, can he indicate how many applications are received from people who live in Northern Ireland and whether he has any idea how many people from Northern Ireland actually hold Irish passports?

I genuinely do not have the answer to that question. I can correspond with the Deputy, or he might wish to table a question for next week.

May I first congratulate the Minister on having tackled some of the difficulties encountered in the Passport Office last summer. Bearing in mind that the months of January and February tend to be those months when people start booking holidays would he consider initiating another reminder campaign, warning people not to leave passport applications until the months of May or June, thereby obviating long queues? What efforts can the Minister undertake to provide passports to approximately 2,000 Americans who applied for them under the citizenship Act approximately five years ago? That might well be the last task he might undertake before leaving his Department.

I do not have that information on file but, as far as my memory serves me, in regard to the numbers mentioned in the latter part of the Deputy's supplementary question, the requisite timescale expired in the context of those applications in respect of which I understand legislation must be introduced in the House.

Perhaps the Minister would arrange that before leaving office. Will the Minister initiate another information campaign in the months of January and February next with regard to passport applications?

I will certainly leave a note to that effect as we shift the deck chairs.

The Minister will leave it in his political will.

In order for the Minister establish passport offices in other parts of the country it will be necessary to know the likely number of applicants from those areas where suboffices have been established. I was informed in a recent reply from the Minister's office that his Department do not know how many people in Northern Ireland hold Irish passports, an extraordinary position. In those circumstances, before leaving office, will he undertake to put in place a procedure whereby at least the number of people holding Irish passports would be known to the authorities of this State?

The Deputy is posing a very specific question.

Naturally I would fight very hard for my seal of office. If circumstances do not transpire as I might wish I will leave a note on file to have that information supplied to the Deputy. I think I could do so before I leave in that, in the ordinary way, we would have another four or five weeks.