Before announcing ministerial changes, I wish to speak about the two Ministers who, at their own wish, are resigning from office. I would like to pay warm tribute to Deputy Andrews on a second distinguished term as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I believe he has left his own substantial and distinctive mark on the proud foreign policy traditions of this State. He spoke to me about stepping down last autumn but I asked him to stay on until the Mitchell Review was complete, with the prospect that he would oversee the coming into being of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
Throughout his political career, Deputy Andrews has made an important contribution to the development of peace and justice in Northern Ireland. In 1968 he served on the all-party committee with the late Séan Lemass that made certain recommendations concerning the approach to unity in the Constitution that are very much reflected in the changes resulting from the Good Friday Agreement. He also played an active role in the New Ireland Forum. As a backbencher in the 1980s, he led the all-party campaign within the Oireachtas to obtain the release of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Annie Maguire on the grounds of a serious miscarriage of justice, a position which was completely vindicated. In his much respected contributions inside and outside the Dáil, Deputy Andrews has always attached much weight to civil liberties, when reforms in criminal law and social legislation have been debated.
Having been Minister of State in Iveagh House from 1977 to 1979, Deputy Andrews was first appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1992. He participated in the earlier round of multi-party talks. From October 1997, he represented the Government throughout the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, where he led a very strong Government team. Warm appreciation of his contribution has been expressed in the past few days by some of the leading members of the main pro-Agreement parties, both Unionist and Nationalist.
In addition to Northern Ireland, Deputy Andrews will be remembered particularly for his internationalist approach, his initiatives with other countries to work towards complete nuclear disarmament and his role as EU representative in East Timor. In a previous Government, he was the first to highlight the humanitarian plight in Somalia, together with President Robinson. He has also conducted a very effective campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, which we hope to bring to a successful conclusion over the next few months.
Working in partnership with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, there has been a substantial expansion, by about a third in real terms discounting inflation, of the overseas development aid programme administered from within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Purely statistical arguments related to GNP tend to ignore and downgrade the expanding aid contribution that this country is making. What matters, as I saw recently in South Africa, is that we are doing more on the ground, and our aid is not tied.
The Government and the House can be grateful for the important qualitative contribution that Deputy Andrews has made to political life and to Irish foreign policy. He has, with his brother Niall, been a standard bearer of a proud and continuous family tradition of public service going back to the foundation of the State. I know he will continue to make an important contribution during the remaining years of this Dáil, and I extend our gratitude and best wishes to his wife Annette and his family for the support that they have given him in his 35 years of public life.
It is also with great regret that I have to announce the decision of the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy Chris Flood, to stand down from his position. He is doing this for health reasons and on medical advice. He has also informed me that he will not contest the next general election. Deputy Flood, who has served in this House since 1987, has made a major contribution to policy on social inclusion. He has played a particularly significant role in the practical development of the rights and entitlements of the traveller community. As a result of his work, significant advances have been made in the position of travellers in this country, and there is now more understanding of the problems facing their community and the need for sympathetic action to deal with them.
Deputy Flood has also played a major role in co-ordinating the national drugs strategy and, in particular, the development and extension of services and facilities for those suffering from drug addiction, with particular reference to young people at risk. He has been in charge of local development, giving support and encouragement to community groups who are combating social exclusion. The budget for local development has been doubled to £33 million this year.
Deputy Flood has represented Dublin South-West at local and national level for 21 years to date. There have been enormous improvements and investment in the area, and especially in Tallaght, and Deputy Flood deserves a generous share of credit for the progress that has been made in transforming the area. For my party, Deputy Flood represented so much that is best in working out and implementing a caring social policy.
Consequent on these developments I now move:
That Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach of Deputy Frank Fahey, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and at the Department of Education and Science (with special responsibility for Children) for appointment by the President to be a member of the Government.
In addition I wish to advise the House that I intend to make the following ministerial reassignments.
I propose to assign responsibility for the Department of Foreign Affairs to Deputy Brian Cowen, for the Department of Health and Children to Deputy Micheál Martin, for the Department of Education and Science to Deputy Michael Woods and for the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources to Deputy Frank Fahey.
Subject to the motion which I have tabled being approved, Deputy Fahey will cease to be Minister of State on his appointment as a member of the Government. Accordingly, I intend to recommend to the Government:
that Deputy Eoin Ryan be appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation with special responsibility for Local Development – he will also be responsible for the National Drugs Strategy Team; and that Deputy Mary Hanafin be appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and at the Department of Education and Science, with special responsibility for Children.
I would like to make one comment on the Cabinet changes and some of the speculation surrounding them. In any Government, but most especially a minority coalition Government, the role of the Government Chief Whip is absolutely vital. The present Chief Whip, Minister Seamus Brennan, whose long political experience is of great value to the Cabinet, would have a strong claim at this stage to return to a departmental Ministry. He is, however, indispensable to the good running and functioning of the Government as a whole, and indeed of this Dáil, and I am, unfortunately, not in a position to spare him for another purpose.