Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Burton. Amendment Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, are related. Amendments No. 1 to 6, inclusive, will be taken together.
Council of Europe Development Bank Bill 2004: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 14, after "text" to insert "in the English language".
These amendments are largely technical in nature and self-explanatory. The first amendment is to provide for a statement that the text is in the English language. Council of Europe Bills are normally in both French and English.
Amendment No. 2 is also for tidying up purposes. In the context of the Government donating to the Council of Europe Development Bank, it is important, given that in last week's Estimates it walked away from its commitment as regards overseas development assistance. These amendments are appropriate on Report Stage, given the subsequent disgraceful attack by the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the aid agencies such as Trócaire and Concern. This attack was crude and intemperate and indicated, on the Minister of State's part, probably complete lack of knowledge as regards the work of development agencies, particularly in the poorest and most distressed parts of Europe. The House has just heard a reference to the evolving situation in Belarus, which may affect the capacity of the Chernobyl charity, and people such as Ms Adi Roche, to continue the inestimable work they have done on behalf of children suffering from the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster.
In the context of the Government agreeing to make a commitment to the European Development Bank, this calls into question its lack of imagination as regards the standing of development money. The excuse given for the Taoiseach walking away from the solemn commitment he made before UN and other bodies as regards reaching the overseas development assistance target of 0.7%, was that the agencies and the Department of Foreign Affairs were unable to spend the money. The Minister of State also indicated this here today. Here we have a blank cheque being sent to the European Development Bank. Unlike our experience with the aid agencies and the bilateral programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I do not know whether every penny of this €13 million commitment to the European Development Bank can be accounted for. The Minister expects us to rubber stamp an initiative for the European Development Bank on which there is precious little detailed accountability while his colleague, the newly appointed Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs is free to cast aspersions on organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and Oxfam in order to bolster the naked and shameful turnaround the Taoiseach did in walking away from Ireland's ODA commitment.
In the Estimates last week the commitment made to annual increases over the next two years as well as in the forthcoming Estimate were such that if adhered to, unless our growth in gross national product, GNP, collapses, not only will we undershoot the 0.7% target, but we will almost definitely be below the new target of0.5%. The commitments made are nonsensical in terms of meeting even the anticipated growth projections for the Irish economy given by the ESRI and other bodies for 2005-07. In moving my amendment I deeply regret that it follows in the context of the shameful reneging by an Irish Government, having hawked the commitment around the world at the UN and other places to gain votes for Ireland. The Government is now offering to write a blank cheque for the European Development Bank, while at the same time the Minister of State feels free to cast aspersions on organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and Oxfam. It is a shameful act by this Government and it is a pity that Deputy O'Donnell is not here to participate in this brief comment on the Council of Europe Development Bank Bill.
I join Deputy Burton in pointing out the complete hypocrisy of solemnly committing at the UN to deliver 0.7% of GNP by 2007 and reneging on that in a year when the Exchequer's revenue intake has never been stronger. In the past 12 months the Government has succeeded in collecting the equivalent of €3,000 for every household in the country, over and above what it raised the year before. It has turned around, on the back of such a revenue performance, and told the poorest of the world that Ireland cannot honour its commitments. This is wrong. What value are we to put on the solemn promises of the Taoiseach if, even in good times, he cannot honour that commitment? The Minister of State, I am sure will answer, as the Minister for Finance has done already, by asserting that Ireland is seventh in the world in terms of development aid and say that €65 million is committed over the next two years. That is true, but the whole point of the Taoiseach's statement was that Ireland was to lead the field. It was to become one of only two countries that would honour this commitment. We were going to try to lead by example and bring others with us. It is reneging on a solemn principle and this is not acceptable.
There are red herrings about the extent to which we can stand over this current initiative and assertions to the effect that this money will be well spent. I also read over the weekend that the World Food Programme is looking for €1 billion to try to deal with world hunger and it is not getting the contributions. If there is money surplus to what is committed to existing programmes, why not put it towards the world hunger programme, so that this body, which is doing vital work to save lives on a day by day basis, can deliver on its programmes. I find it hard to explain to people who ask me why this was done and why this decision was made. We all know that gross domestic product, GDP, and GNP grow. They are not stationary targets. Even by the end of 2007 we will not be at 0.5%, as Deputy Burton said. All the predictions are that we will be short of that. We will only have made a small headway towards the target. Only in one year — the year after the commitment was made — when we were looking for a position on the Security Council, was a realistic effort made to honour the commitment. Every other year there have been only token gestures. We need to take ourselves and our promises more seriously than has been exhibited in this case. I am extremely disappointed. I welcome the Bill. It is timely that the Government supports the work of this Bill. I have no general comments on any of the amendments proposed on Report Stage.
Deputy Burton referred to an issue of great importance, that of subsequently reporting back to this House on the activities of the Council of Europe Development Bill. In various agreements with international finance agencies there is a requirement for the Minister for Finance to table such reports. I have in mind the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank in particular. While those reports are often not what they should be in terms of passing on information, at least there is a mechanism for reporting back to this House. I ask the Minister of State to state whether such a mechanism will exist for this in the future?
It is obvious that the Government has been guilty of gross hypocrisy in the area of development aid. As of now, 0.39% of GNP is given to overseas development aid, which is well short of the 0.7% target promised by the Taoiseach, most recently in Johannesburg. Even if one takes into account the €60 million increase projected this year and the €130 million projected for the next two years, it is likely that the 0.5% figure will not be reached either, given the projected levels of economic growth. The figure in 2007 is likely to be no greater than 0.44% or 0.45% of GNP. That is the summit of the Government's ambition on overseas development aid. We are moving from a current figure of 0.39% to 0.44%. We are talking about a significant fund in ODA of well over €400 million and up to €500 million and €600 million by 2007.
However when the Band Aid Foundation asked for a VAT rebate on DVD and CD sales of its charity record which will be released at Christmas, the Government chose to respond not by giving a VAT rebate but by taking €1 million from the development assistance budget and giving it to the Band Aid budget regardless of how that money has been allocated. One can understand the reason we on this side, and many outside, are utterly cynical about the Government's attitude to overseas development aid. That is an attitude that can translate not only into development aid but across a myriad of charities and voluntary organisations requesting particular action on the way they are treated for VAT repayment purposes.
I wish to raise the issue of Belarus, a matter that was raised on the Order of Business. Belarus is significant in the context of this Bill because it is likely that it will be one of the countries seeking funds from the Council of Europe Development Bank and will be accessing such funds to develop badly needed infrastructure. The Taoiseach has given an indication that he will seek a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs on what is being done. Ireland has given moreper capita than any other country towards alleviating the stress and suffering caused by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. When the head of Government in that region says that in future young people cannot come to Ireland to receive medical assistance or for rest and recuperation, from which they have benefited for the past 18 years, we need to say that internationally this does not represent best practice. We should use the mechanism of our membership of this bank to ask whether the development that will occur in Belarus as a result of accessing funds from this bank — our membership of the bank is comparable with the making of diktats of this type — will affect the benefit to which young people from Belarus, Ukraine and other countries in the region are entitled, which they have received previously.
Will the Minister of State say how the Government will report back to the Dáil in future on how the Council of Europe Development Fund is doing its work, how we can respond in future and specific issues occurring in Belarus? I hope for some defence on what is an unacceptable position on overseas development aid but I may be living in hope of receiving an adequate response in that area.
I welcome that we have reached Report and Final Stages of the Bill and I will support its passage. I welcome Deputy Burton's amendments and join in her presentation of them, as we did on Committee Stage. On the broad areas addressed by colleagues, it is important to reflect on the backdrop to the Bill, which was introduced following the end of the Second World War. Both the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Development Bank are facing a very different set of circumstances today from those in the late 1940s on their establishment. We have to recognise that we are facing a very changed position in our country. Throughout Europe reactionary politics are holding sway, where fortress Europe is the image that is presented and is the reality for many of those for whom the Council of Europe Development Bank Bill might address the problems and difficulties they would experience coming here and to other European countries.
The situation here has changed because we are in the post referendum period, the citizenship referendum having been adopted by the people last June. That is one of the more regrettable decisions the Irish people have taken in recent years. This does not auger well for the policies the European Council has set itself to improve community relations, encourage tolerance and guarantee the rights, including social rights, of immigrants irrespective of what category they may have attributed to them by their country of choice.
I would look with interest at the prospects of the polices being out-worked and supported through the European Council Development Bank in the coming weeks, months and years. Certainly it is a laudable pursuit, but I do not know how it will translate in real terms. The recent upsurge in racially motivated attacks and utterances indicate a tremendous need for the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Development Bank to focus on matters in Ireland in regard to our attitudes to indigenous people on this island as well as those new brothers and sisters in our respective communities. There is much about which to be concerned. It is appropriate to appeal for a revisitation of the decision on Irish children who will not have the opportunity to enjoy equal rights of citizenship and nationality with those of us who have been able to enjoy our birthright in Ireland. There are some 11,000 children in this category. I appeal to the Minister of State and the Tánaiste, who has joined him in the House, to consider seriously the terrible anguish, suffering and pain of uncertainty that many families are experiencing throughout this jurisdiction as a consequence of their loss of the right to remain here. Moreover, they should consider the terrible vista that will present itself if this country continues to deport Irish children to other jurisdictions. How will those children, their extended families and the wider communities in which they will grow and, I hope, flourish regard this country in the future when they look back at the way Ireland, the country of their birth, closed its door on them? Such circumstances are absolutely abhorrent and a revisitation of those cases that existed prior to the June referendum is certainly required. We should extend an open and welcoming hand to these children, their parents and siblings. What better time than the month of Christmas for the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, and his colleagues to exercise themselves in this regard instead of closing the door on and banishing to a stable elsewhere people who should be able to find an opportunity to be nurtured and nourished in this, the land of their birth?
Like my colleagues, I am deeply disappointed by the commentary of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on overseas development aid. The exercise of criticising the aid agencies' use of ODA funding for advocacy is incredible. In other words, he is criticising the aid organisations' use of funding in raising awareness of the needs of the Third World and the need for justice and human rights universally. I strongly reject his commentary and feel it was totally inappropriate. However, it was coming on the tail of the Government's significant indication of its intent not to proceed with what was a clear promise, made a number of years ago, to ensure that we would reach the target of allocating 0.7% of gross national product, GNP, for overseas development aid by 2007.
The budget has yet to be presented but it is not too late to ensure, over the week remaining before its presentation on 1 December, that a change of heart be brought to bear on this issue and that we have a restoration in that budget of the proposed annual increases to 2007, thereby realising a commitment that I understood had the support of all political opinion in this House. Clearly, the commitment no longer has such support. Let me conclude with the words of Hans Zomer, spokesperson of Dóchas, the umbrella group of 34 Irish aid agencies that has, quite understandably, reacted with great alarm and anger to the signalled intent of Government regarding overseas aid, as published in the Estimates:
It is incomprehensible that our Government has taken credit internationally for something it will not now deliver on. In a world where 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day and where 8,000 people die of AIDS each day, Ireland is failing to live up to its promise.
This failure brings shame on each and every one of us, which is very sad indeed. I hope that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, as representatives of their party, will recognise that a former Minister of State from their party was an enthusiastic exponent of the commitment regarding overseas development aid. It is regrettable that their partners in Government are now failing in this regard.
We are on amendment No. 1.
The Acting Chairman could be forgiven for forgetting the business of the House. We are dealing with amendments to the Bill, with which I want to deal.
I referred to amendmentNo. 1, in the name of Deputy Burton, and others related thereto, but the Minister of State made no move to speak on them.
I apologise to the Acting Chairman. I remind the House that we are dealing with amendments to the Council of Europe Development Bank Bill. We have dealt with many other issues. When we took Committee Stage of the Bill, the same amendments were tabled but, unfortunately, Deputy Burton was not present. I oppose the amendments as I consider those referring to "the English language" to be unnecessary. If the intention was to emphasise that the text is in English and French, it was not necessary as the text in English is the official text of the document. If the intention was to indicate that the text is not in Irish, it must be noted that the Bill, as drafted, will facilitate the translation of the official text of the agreement into Irish. The amendment, as proposed, would mean that when the Bill, as passed, is translated, the only text that could be used would be the English text. The drafting in this regard is consistent with similar legislation. The other textual amendments are a matter of style and I am satisfied that the current drafting is appropriate.
I welcome the support in the House for overseas development aid but the comments that were made in this regard are not relevant to this Bill. Our contributions to the Council of Europe Development Bank are new and additional to our ODA contributions. I am proud to be part of an Administration that will contribute over €1.8 billion to overseas development aid over the next three years. This is a substantial contribution on behalf of a small economy.
On the issues raised about the accountability of the Council of Europe Development Bank, the €13 million we are paying to the bank is the cost of joining it. The bank is very accountable. It is an arm of the Council of Europe and is accountable thereto. It comprises members of the Council of Europe of which Ireland has been a member since the Council's foundation in 1949. In joining the bank we are completing our commitments to the Council of Europe and its work in Europe, including the countries in eastern Europe which are in dire need of our support.
I asked whether we would receive reports on a regular basis, preferably annually, on the activities of the bank, to be placed in the Oireachtas Library. I raised a question on the likelihood of countries such as Belarus receiving loans from the bank and asked about the mechanisms Ireland could use to argue against diktats of that type issued by the Belarussian authorities affecting those who wish to travel to and from Ireland.
Let me reiterate some of the points I put to the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, to assist him. He is probably aware that announcements were made over the weekend by the President of Belarus indicating the possible intention of that country to close access to projects such as the Chernobyl Children's Project. I am sure he is aware that many hundreds of thousands of Irish people have contributed to this charity to improve the lot of children suffering from the effects of the disaster in Chernobyl.
As I understand it, part of the function of the Council of Europe Development Bank is to assist poor countries that are members of the Council of Europe. I know it has a specific brief regarding migrants, a subject to which I will return. It is appropriate, in view of the fears raised by people such as Adi Roche regarding events in Belarus, that we should take the opportunity during the consideration of this Bill to ask the Minister of State to comment, on behalf of the Government, on whether he has sought to make representations to the Government of Belarus which is likely to be a recipient of assistance under the programme of the Council of Europe Development Bank and other similar institutions. Did the Minister of State inquire what is happening in regard to the possible change by the authorities in Belarus?
Some months ago, the Government undertook a referendum, which considerably more than 80% of the people supported, to seek to limit the right to Irish citizenship to children born in Ireland. As the Minister of State will be aware, some of these children have been deported, along with their non-Irish parents, to some countries which are to be aided by the Council of Europe Development Bank. Will the Government consider assisting Irish-born children deported to the countries the Bill seeks to assist which are very poor and where there is a problem of migration to the rest of Europe? Will the Minister ensure that some of the money the Government is committing to the Council of Europe Development Bank will be used to assist some of these deported Irish citizens?
In response to Deputy Boyle, the reporting of the activities of the bank is carried out through the Council of Europe in which Ireland has a permanent representative. I am sure an annual report is submitted. Therefore, we will obtain the information through the permanent representative and make it available to the Deputy.
On Deputy Burton's question, there was an Opposition question to the Taoiseach earlier regarding the difficulties in Belarus. He gave a commitment that either he or the relevant Minister would deal with the issue.
Will the Minister of State reply to the question on the children? The purpose of the Bill is to assist migrants.
The issue the Deputy raised is irrelevant to what we are dealing with today. We are dealing with amendments to the Council of Europe Development Bank Bill and the criteria set down for spending the money. Unfortunately, it does not apply to Belarus. I am sure migrants from Belarus in eastern Europe will benefit, just as many other eastern European countries have benefited substantially in the past from investments from the Council of Europe Development Bank.
I draw the Minister of State's attention to the following excerpt from the Bill:
The primary purpose of the Bank is to help in solving the social problems with which European countries are or may be faced as a result of the presence of refugees, displaced persons or migrants consequent upon movements of refugees ... The investment projects ... The Bank may also contribute to the realisation of investment projects approved by a Member of the Bank which enable jobs to be created in disadvantaged regions, people in low income groups to be housed or social infrastructure to be created.
The point I am making is that following the referendum earlier in the year, we now have the phenomenon of Irish citizen children being deported from time to time by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to some of the poorest countries in Europe. As major contributors to the bank, will the Minister of State use his offices to try to assist some of the children who were deported, together with their migrant parents who applied unsuccessfully for refugee status in this country? It is a straightforward question and it is an area in which the Government ought to have a policy. Deporting Irish citizens from the country is a unique phenomenon in the history of Ireland. The Minister of State will be aware that some of these children are returning to very poor circumstances. As a humanitarian gesture, will he undertake to use the Government's contribution to the Council of Europe Development Bank to assist some of these Irish citizen children who are now back in very poor parts of eastern Europe? The Minister of State must be aware of this fact because his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, never stops boasting about the expulsion of children.
The referendum to which the Deputy referred was put to the people recently. I recall the public voted 9:1 in favour of the referendum.
I am asking about the children who have been deported.
One of the laudable reasons we decided to join the bank and make a contribution was because of some of its policies. We are members of the bank because of our €13 million contribution, but in terms of being involved in its day-to-day running or in carrying out its policies, that is an issue for the bank itself. It is not in our remit to advise the bank. It has a good tradition and record of supporting the underprivileged in eastern Europe.
Is the Minister of State saying that the Government will take no interest in how the bank spends €13 million of Irish taxpayers' money? This is exactly the blank cheque phenomenon. The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, was crass enough to criticise organisations like Trócaire and Concern for spending money on advocacy in this country. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. May I make a positive suggestion to the Minister of State and the Tánaiste? In the run-up to Christmas, he should consider asking the bank to support and sustain Irish-born children who are being deported from this country along with their failed asylum seeker parents and who will find themselves in very difficult economic circumstances when they return to their parents' country of origin.
Perhaps the Deputy will make available to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or me the names of some of the people to whom she referred. She is exaggerating the situation.
I am not.
To how many people is the Deputy referring?
The Minister of State is in Government. He should be aware of these figures.
The number is minimal. When a decision is taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it is for a very good reason.
The Minister of State's colleague never stops boasting about his decision.
The Minister is fully supported by the people following the 9:1 margin in the referendum result.
The Minister of State must stick to the question.
The question is entirely irrelevant to what we are dealing with. I am satisfied that the day-to-day running of the Council of Europe Development Bank will deal with the issues the Deputy raised.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, lines 22 and 23, to delete all words from and including "(which" in line 22 down to and including "Act)" in line 23.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, line 23, after "and" to insert "of".
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, line 24, to delete "which" and substitute the following:
"the text in the English language of which".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, line 9, after "text" to insert "in the English language".
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 4, line 16, to delete "as" and substitute the following:
"the text in the English language of which is".