Other Questions. - Overseas Aid Programme.

Ivor Callely


16 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the role of Ireland in development projects and humanitarian relief operations over the past six months; the likely input over the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8252/98]

It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that we have further significant increases in Ireland's Official Development Assistance — ODA — budget for 1998. Expenditure on the programme this year is expected to reach a record £137 million or 0.32 per cent of GNP. The budget increase will permit not only an expansion of the programme but also, and more importantly, qualitative change and improvement. This relates to all elements of our programme including multilateral assistance, bilateral assistance to the priority countries for Irish aid and other bilateral assistance.

Specifically with regard to Ireland's role in development projects the Irish aid programme has concentrated on priority programmes of co-operation with six countries in Africa, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In 1998 the allocation for the priority countries programmes is £43 million, 33 per cent more than the level for last year. Ireland is now well on the way to becoming a medium-sized donor to the countries concerned. We have become increasingly involved in initiatives with the partner governments and with other donors to improve and make more efficient the overall aid effort in the countries concerned. A case in point is the development of a coherent sectoral approach to aid allocation.

The essential focus of the Irish aid programme is on the eradication of poverty through meeting basic needs such as access to primary health care, clean water supply, food security and basic education. In addition there is particular emphasis in each of our priority countries on helping to create the right environment to ensure development activities can be continued by the relevant communities and authorities. This means that we place great importance on fostering democracy, respect for human rights, gender and social equity and capacity building.

In addition to our spending on priority country programmes there are smaller programmes of assistance in other countries, chiefly South Africa, the Palestinian territories, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, visited South Africa briefly over the period coinciding with St Patrick's Day. The Irish aid programme in South Africa continues to focus on the needs of disadvantaged communities with priority attaching to the sectors of human rights and democratisation, capacity building, education and training, health and rural and community development.

Irish aid continues to respond as speedily and effectively as possible to humanitarian crises. In the past six months assistance to the amount of £3.6 million went to alleviate the effects of natural disasters and conflict-related emergencies. The El Nino phenomenon has had a devastating effect in terms of drought or severe flooding in a number of countries and support has been given to vulnerable groups in, for example, Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Honduras and the island of New Guinea. Ireland has also played its part with the international community in meeting the urgent food needs of the people of the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

Unfortunately large numbers of people continue to suffer because of conflict and war and support has been channelled to those in need in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola. In addition, we continue to meet the basic humanitarian needs of genocide survivors and returned refugees in Rwanda. In societies recovering from conflict, Irish aid finances rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes and projects. A total of £4 million was allocated to this type of assistance in 1997, mainly in Bosnia, Rwanda and countries such as Angola and Somalia.

Humanitarian mine clearance is a priority in a number of countries if people are to return to normal lives as quickly as possible and Ireland is supporting demining programmes in Angola, Cambodia and Chechnya.

There are also significant developments in relation to the other components of our bilateral assistance. New guidelines aimed at strengthening the partnership with non-governmental organisations were introduced in 1997 on a pilot basis. Based on experience with their implementation, revisions are currently taking place in consultation with NGOs with a view to enhancing their effectiveness and consolidating the partnership.

In addition to the human rights and democratisation focus within the individual priority country programmes, there has been a sizeable increase in the budget for support for human rights projects in other countries, from £0.868 million in 1997 to £1.25 million this year. This substantial increase will enable us to expand our activities in this area in this year of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I thank the Minister for his response and congratulate him on the increase in funding in 1998. Is the Minister satisfied the money is going to the area of need and is used efficaciously? What mechanism is in place to ensure that is done? Will the Minister outline how the projects or relief operations are identified and prioritised?

I thank the Deputy for his question. The 1998 budget for the priority countries, the six countries to which I have referred, is: Ethiopia, £12.4 million; Lesotho, £4.4 million; Mozambique, £5 million; Tanzania, £9.8 million; Uganda, £6 million and Zambia, £5.8 million. Distinguishing between good intentions and good results, on the outcome achieved as a result of Irish aid expenditure, no stone is left unturned in finding ways of increasing programme impact. There is a rigorous programme evaluation of all expenditure. The development sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Irish Aid Advisory Committee help to sharpen our policy approaches. We consult constantly with other donors, NGOs and, most importantly, people from developing countries. There is an ongoing effort to make our programmes conform to the best practices and guidelines of the development assistance committees of the OECD.

Ireland, with our EU partners, has taken a strong human rights position, for example, in the governance of Zambia. We repeatedly expressed deep concern about the state of emergency imposed following the attempted coup in October 1997 and urged that it be lifted as soon as possible. That is an example of a constructive approach to democratisation and the democratic nature of the country to which we subscribe. We are entitled to make a call in that regard and have done so, particularly in regard to the position in Zambia.

Given the position in Ireland, will the Minister agree it would be justified to spend some of the funding assisting those from the countries he has named and others to overcome the racism they experience here and to equip those who are repatriated to go back to their countries in a condition that enables them to take up useful employment? Not all the money must be spent in the jurisdiction of those countries; some of it could be spent on the citizens of those countries who continue to suffer while resident here.

It is not as much a question of money as an attitude of mind. Given that we experienced a huge emigration problem, particularly during the famine years, we must take account of our obligations to people who are the victims of abuse and lack human rights in their own countries, who are refugees because of lack of democracies in their own countries. Our attitude of mind, however, should not stop us from helping countries, for example, as I outlined in response to Deputy Callely's question. We have an absolute obligation to ensure refugees are here legitimately. We are entitled to examine their bona fides and, having done that, we should warmly welcome them. It is our attitude of mind that should change, and that should in no way interfere with our overseas aid programme as outlined in part in response to Deputy Callely's question.

Is the Minister aware of an outbreak of racism — I am not attributing it to any Member — among the public in that quite racist comments have been made? As I walked towards my home last night I met two men who made their point in a fashion which was not unreasonable, but the content of what they had to say was. As regards humanitarian aid, does he agree we should think not only in terms of assisting citizens in their home states but also citizens who are suffering here? Perhaps we might use some of this humanitarian aid to promote greater racial co-operation and understanding between communities.

There is potential for a serious problem in this city given some of the comments I have heard and which have gone unchallenged. I am not talking about comments made by politicians but by some of our so-called sober citizens. Such comments are alarming and something must be done to ensure we use the opportunity to promote understanding and good communal relations between citizens and those visiting here.

Where possible, we should be able to integrate these people in our society. Like the Deputy, I condemn racism in any form as it is a manifestation of a prejudice based on ignorance. I speak on behalf of the Government when I condemn it without reservation. On funds being made available to the six priority countries in Africa, if people believe they are not welcome in those countries and come to this country, we should make additional funds available to them to ensure they are made welcome if they are here legitimately. Our diaspora is spread far and wide throughout the world and we should reciprocate in kind.

On the six priority countries to which the Minister referred, will he forward a breakdown of how the finance is being spent? Is it being spent on long-term projects and what beneficial results will arise from such projects or is it a short-term emergency response?

These are long-term projects and not a response to an emergency. I would be glad to give the Deputy a breakdown of the amounts which go to each project. We have been successful in helping these countries with such projects on a long-term basis, and long may we continue to do so.