Overseas Development Aid: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Allen on Tuesday, 7 December 2004:
That Dáil Éireann,
—recognising that 1.3 billion people live in severe poverty, that 500 million are chronically malnourished, that access to safe drinking water is denied to over 1 billion people, that more than 840 million adults are illiterate, and that more than 93% of those living with HIV/AIDS are in developing countries;
—identifying Ireland's contribution to overseas development aid as vital to the effort to tackle these global problems;
—acknowledging the absolute commitment made by the Taoiseach at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 that Ireland would meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development aid by 2007;
—aware that this absolute commitment was confirmed by the Taoiseach at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002;
—noting that this absolute commitment was restated on October 15th during a meeting between the Government and the Secretary General of the United Nations; but,
—deeply disappointed at the decision to now renege upon this absolute commitment,
calls upon the Government to:
—honour the absolute commitment made to reach the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development aid by 2007; and
—introduce legislation, to operate in a similar way to the National Pension Reserve Fund Act, to place a statutory obligation on the Government to allocate a sum of 0.7% of GNP from the Exchequer towards overseas development aid on an annual basis.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"—recognises the enormous challenge of global poverty in all its manifestations of hunger, disease, ill health, poor or no access to basic social services and the terribly destructive effects that these have on human well-being and productivity;
—reaffirms the importance which it attaches to the millennium development goals in the global partnership to attack indicators of poverty such as inadequate incomes, widespread hunger, gender inequality, environmental degradation, lack of education, health care, HIV-AIDS and clean water;
—acknowledges the excellent international reputation of the Government's official aid programme, Development Co-operation Ireland, including as evaluated independently by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD);
—pays tribute to the superb work of Ireland's development partners in tackling endemic poverty and humanitarian emergencies. These partnerships with NGOs, UN agencies, civil society, local and national authorities are the cornerstone of Ireland's development co-operation success;
—welcomes the enormous aid funding increases which have been channelled to some of the poorest countries of the world over the past ten years and which has made Ireland the world's eighth largest aid donor on aper capita basis. The aid programme has grown from €96 million in 1994 to approximately €475 million in 2004, thereby placing Ireland among the top donors in the world and well ahead of the EU average;
—welcomes the recently announced aid increases of at least €190 million over the next three years, which will bring Ireland's spending on overseas aid to €665 million in 2007, an historic high and an increase of 40% on current spending; and
—reaffirms Ireland's commitment to continuing to address the needs of the poorest people in the world, to making progress towards the millennium development goals and to reaching the target 0.7% of GNP."
— (Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs).

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion before the House, which revisits the issue of Ireland's overseas development programme and, in particular, our plan to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. The Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I am a member, recently deplored the fact that there has been some backsliding in the Government's commitment to reaching that target by 2007. As the former Minister of State who was responsible for securing Cabinet approval for reaching the 0.7% target, I feel a particular responsibility to continue to advocate that that Cabinet decision should be honoured. I attended the United Nations in New York with the Taoiseach when he made that public commitment to the international community on the occasion of the millennium summit. The commitment was made following a full Cabinet process, involving all the usual consultation and departmental analysis. I chaired a high-level review of the Ireland Aid programme at the time, to which contributions were made by representatives of the OECD, the Irish business community and the heads of NGOs and aid agencies. We went through all the issues, examining the problems and challenges of expanding the overseas development aid programme so quickly in the coming years. We put in place a clearly defined plan that was a framework for expanding the programme. We also engaged in a major public consultation to discuss the planned increase in aid programmes in our priority countries. In addition, we discussed these matters with all the stakeholders, including NGOs, churches, missionary orders and the general public.

The decision, which was widely acclaimed both at home and abroad, secured our membership of the Security Council. Our Ministers went around the world talking to international leaders, seeking their support for Ireland's place on the Security Council. We returned home when Ireland had secured that place. The Africa vote was very significant in that victory.

Quite apart from the politics however, it is important to say why we took the decision to expand our overseas aid programme. We did so because it was the right thing to do. We made a commitment that Ireland would maintain its solidarity, in a significant manner, with the world's poorest countries because for the first time in our history we were in a financial position to do so. We did so in full knowledge of the facts and following widespread consultation, although some people may have thought we were expanding the aid programme too quickly. Those arguments were listened to and we debated them. Since the review process, which I chaired, examined all those issues and took more than a year to complete, I do not see the need for a White Paper.

I want to highlight what we decided at that time, following the review committee's analysis of the aid programme's expansion. The key recommendations were: a new fund and action plan to combat the HIV-AIDS pandemic; a new policy focus on governance, democracy and human rights in the developing world; support for the private sector in developing countries; a new strategic and financial relationship with NGOs; a new budget and support framework for Irish missionaries; clear criteria for bilateral aid; and a wider geographical spread of the programme.

We looked at whether we would stay with Africa and we decided that we would do so. We decided to make a small expansion into South East Asia, to support Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which we have done. Primarily, however, we decided we were going to stay with Africa because that is the area of greatest poverty and need in the world. We have had the greatest relationships and long-standing partnerships with six African countries. We made plans with those countries to expand our aid programmes to them. We discussed the expansion and there is no problem of capacity. Issues have been raised as to whether or not, with all this expansion of the programme, there would be capacity on behalf of the stakeholders, our priority country partners, the NGOs and all the other people engaged in this aid endeavour. There is no problem about it. All the NGOs and representatives of the missionaries in Africa recently informed the Committee on Foreign Affairs that the target countries are anxious for more money. This endeavour is about saving lives, which is why it is so important. It is far more important than many other issues we discuss in this House because it represents a challenge that Ireland is geared up to meet. Our engagement with the poorest countries is the one foreign affairs issue for which Ireland is renowned all over the world. This is because we were so recently poor ourselves, have a memory of famine, were colonised and remained under developed for so many years, and we know the value of education.

Of all the facts surrounding our aid programmes in Africa, the one I am most proud of is that we are educating young Africans. Our missionaries have been doing that for years. The template of the aid programme began with the missionaries. Our programme is only 30 years old but in that time we have made a huge impact in Africa. I wish the wider public was aware just how important is the work done in Africa in Ireland's name. I am concentrating my remarks on Africa because it is where we are most deeply embedded. We are engaged there in long-term, sustainable development in six countries. I hope that as we expand the aid programme, every Member of the House will support it.

We have much to be proud of, given the extent to which the programme has expanded. In 1992, the programme amounted to only £40 million, while next year it will reach €530 million. That is a considerable amount of money that must, and will be, well spent. I urge every Member of the House to take the opportunity at some point over the next two years, before the next general election, of visiting our projects in Africa. It is extremely important for all Members to see at first hand the fantastic, life-saving and life-altering work that is being done in our name in Africa.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs is travelling to Africa at the moment to see the projects for himself. I think he will be a changed man when he returns. One must see the chronic poverty and need, as well as the hope that aid engenders. It is not all misery in Africa. It would be shameful to portray the continent as a place of unrelenting misery. It is a continent comprising people of great hope and resources. They may have very little but when they receive help in the form of education, clean water and solidarity, one can see their lives changing immeasurably.

I travelled with the President to Kenya and Uganda to see the work of Irish missionaries there. Over the years, thousands of Irish missionaries have worked to change the lives of local people in Africa. They are still working there and are grateful for every cent that allows them to continue that work. I am glad there is now a new fund to help those missionaries to draw down funding that is available to assist their endeavours.

As the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, said recently when he addressed us in Dublin Castle, we do this not out of charity but out of enlightened self interest. Given the preoccupation with the war on terror and the need for a secure world, it is constantly overlooked that if the world was a fairer place and millions were not living in despair, the world would be a safer place. Security issues alone will not win the war against terrorism. There is a huge challenge to create a fairer world trading order, to engage in debt relief and build the capacity of developing countries to govern themselves.

So many conflicts in Africa have displaced populations, thus creating huge refugees flows. All these developments have downstream repercussions for rich countries. There are plenty of economic reasons it is a good idea for the developed world to support the Third World.

In Ireland, however, we have always seen it as a moral imperative. It is a test of our civilised values that we should want to help these people. We do not sleep easily in our beds when we think of the millions suffering with HIV-AIDS and the millions of abandoned orphans. The coping mechanisms that have traditionally safeguarded the welfare of orphans in developing countries have broken down because so many adults have died. I am glad we are maintaining our focus on HIV-AIDS.

In regard to expanding the budget for overseas aid, I welcome that a multi-annual programme is back in place. The absence of such an approach has been the problem for the last two years. There was no guaranteed funding, which resulted in slippage and stalling in the budget. During my tenure as Minister of State, a three-year multi-annual programme was agreed, which guaranteed the upward trajectory of funding for this area. We must liberate the overseas aid budget from the annual Estimates wrangle.

Unfortunately, however, the three-year budget that has been approved, incorporating an increase of €190 million in funding over the next three years, will not bring us to the target of 0.7%. We must continue to advocate at budget time for the next three years to ensure those minimum thresholds are exactly that. The agreed multi-annual funding must be only a baseline and Members must continue to advocate in support of this endeavour. There is cross-party support for the expansion of the overseas aid budget.

Fine Gael has put forward a proposition that we should legislate to reach the UN target. Such action may well be necessary and would achieve broad support in the House. Over the years, as the budget has expanded, there has perhaps been insufficient debate in the House. Likewise, there has been insufficient public awareness of the great work that is purchased by taxpayers' money. Irish people are generous by nature and are among the most generous contributors in the world by way of voluntary contributions to charities. This should be reflected in the Government's programme.

Many members of the public think of overseas aid in terms of the work done by the NGOs including Trócaire, Goal and Concern. Those agencies do fantastic work, funded by the Government and the people. However, the public is not fully aware of the depth, strength and scope of the official programme, which is run by our own people in six priority countries in Africa. It is a diverse programme which is based on partnership. I stress again the need for all Deputies to take ownership of the program and to transmit that to their constituents. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

Like Deputies O'Donnell, Michael D. Higgins and Allen, I am a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. I cannot have it both ways. As much as I may be expected to vote against it, I support the Government amendment. I was extremely disappointed that we were unable to honour our commitment to keep on track in achieving the target of 0.7% of GDP by 2007. It is up to those of us with some experience of observing the work done by Ireland Aid to advocate even more strongly, along with the NGOs, missionaries and other groups, to ensure that a clear target date is set.

I concur with Deputy O'Donnell that there is merit in examining in greater detail the need for legislation in this area to prevent an annual or multi-annual wrangle regarding the overseas aid budget. I welcome that the Minister proposes to engage in a consultative process that will end in the production of a White Paper. The public will engage in this debate and that will facilitate the emergence of a greater consciousness of the need to maintain this level of support.

When one has the opportunity to see at first-hand the work that is done, one cannot but marvel at what can be achieved with relatively little money. I was fortunate to visit Uganda and Ethiopia earlier this year, during which Deputy Woods and I spent almost an hour with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. Our discussion included such issues as good governance, greater transparency and improved monitoring of the election process. These issues are almost as important as the money we spend on HIV-AIDS. Prime Minister Zenawi fully recognises Ireland's commitment to overseas aid.

I also had the opportunity to listen to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda earlier this year at the United Nations trade and development summit in Sao Paolo. He outlined in glowing terms the contribution Uganda could make to the wider world. As Deputy O'Donnell has said, in agreement with Mr. Kofi Annan, it is in our enlightened self-interest to support Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique and all other countries with which we have an association. An intervention in a hospital in Kampala, whereby best practice is encouraged, medical professionals are educated about the latest research into retroviral drugs and so on, can have a significant impact on the HIV-AIDS programme. Such developments are facilitated through the co-operation of St. James's Hospital and Trinity College Dublin.

The capacity for such assistance is significant and current programmes only scratch the surface in terms of best practice for medical professionals, training the trainers, peer reviews and other issues. There are some 14,000 displaced persons in the refugee camp in Gulu in northern Uganda. An Irish doctor is working there with one of the NGOs developing anti-malaria projects and training health workers to help reduce the level of child and maternal mortality. This is indicative of the work that can be done. If some 200 malaria nets can have a significant impact, what would 400 or 4,000 achieve? The provision of clean water is another imperative.

Ireland is making an important contribution to the provision of universal access to primary education throughout Uganda. In one school I visited, there were 2,642 young people streaming in from the mountains to receive basic education in classes of up to 102 pupils. I cite these examples to illustrate what could be achieved. I have emphasised repeatedly the importance of investing more money in training teachers, in developing curricula and education research. In the Tigre province of northern Ethiopia, for example, a transformation has been achieved in the last seven years with the help of hydrologists from the National University of Ireland, Cork and the University of Wales, Bangor. Deputy Michael D. Higgins is aware of the progress that has been made as he knows the area well. The lives of the people in that area have been transformed through the provision of a better health service and improved housing. Now there is grass, bees, honey and milk. This is why we should be daring enough to set the goal of 0.7%.

I was encouraged by the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, in the Joint Committee on European Affairs. He pointed to the draft conclusion regarding the importance of ensuring a coherent contribution of Community overseas development assistance which will be discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels next Monday.

I hope the Minister will elaborate later on what he suggested in his contribution. I hope we will see concrete proposals on the setting of new and adequate ODA targets for the period 2009-10 by April of next year. That would be a step forward.

Since we were at school until lately most of us have had very little contact with the poor countries of the world. I remember, when at school, collecting pennies for the black babies. We sold the Far East and other mission magazines, organised raffles and did what we could.

However, I was recently part of a group of parliamentarians which travelled to Zambia. The trip received wide coverage. I am sure most of Ireland knew we were there although they may not have been told exactly why. My trip to that beautiful country at a beautiful time of year left a lasting mark on me. For the first time in my life I saw real poverty. I firmly believe that there is no poverty except where there is hunger. We can speak in relative terms but we saw a beautiful country with 80% of its population in abject poverty and almost 30% suffering from AIDS.

Like our own country, Zambia was colonised. Should countries which, in other times, plundered and pillaged Zambia and other African countries be made to pay an extra penalty to compensate for what was done? The Zambians are beautiful people who accept their fate very easily. Television and radio programmes and newspapers do not give an idea of the poverty of third world countries, compared with seeing it at first hand.

I had the pleasure of meeting the chargé d'affaires in the Irish Embassy, Mr. Patrick Curran, who is from my county of Waterford. His work in the country with the small sum of €15 million was simply unbelievable. It is difficult even to convey the vastness of the country and I speak only about one African country.

When politicians visit another country we always look at what politicians do there. It was amazing to see a constituency of 20,000 registered voters, 10,000 of whom vote. In that area of Lusaka, 800,000 people live in the most awful poverty. Much of what we saw in Zambia left a mark on me which I will never forget. I began to wonder what was Ireland's contribution and I made inquiries when I came back. A small amount of money can make a considerable difference to a hospice or an education or training centre. We saw a training centre containing 20 sewing machines where people come in shifts to be trained in the use of the machines before going out to start their own businesses.

I was proud to see Ireland's contribution to that African country, from a modest beginning in 1974 to €1.8 million now. This is a wonderful contribution, although it is not enough.

Táim an-bhuíoch labhairt os comhair an Tí ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo.

I share the disappointment expressed by all Deputies at the recent announcement that we may not reach the target set by the Taoiseach in 2000 in relation to our commitment to overseas development aid. However, as one who also had the honour of visiting Zambia and of seeing at first hand the work of Development Co-operation Ireland in very effective programmes across a wide spectrum under the guidance of our chargé d'affaires, Mr. Patrick Curran, I was particularly impressed with the impact Irish aid is making there.

Programmes funded by Irish aid are scrutinised, their merits recognised and funds allocated accordingly. Our delegation, which included my colleague, Deputy Wilkinson, visited the department of foreign affairs where we met the deputy Minister. We emphasised to him the importance of accountability in all kinds of aid which comes from various countries to Zambia, not least from Ireland. Irish taxpayers will always want to know their funds are being used to the utmost benefit of the people for whom they are intended. The manner in which the programmes are organised through the efficiency of our embassy in Lusaka makes me confident that Irish aid is effective in Zambia.

Nevertheless, I welcome the White Paper process announced by the Minister of State which will give us the opportunity to make submissions during the coming year. This will help us see how best we can target timeframes.

I regret that I do not have more time to speak on this issue but I am grateful for the few moments given to me.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Connolly, Gormley and Ó Snodaigh.

Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don tairiscint seo: gur chóir don Rialtas an gheallúint a thug an Taoiseach i Meán Fomhair 2000 ag na Náisiúin Aontaithe, go mbainfeadh Éire amach 0.7% den ioncaim náisiúnta mar chabhair do na tíortha forbarthacha. I support this motion calling on the Government to honour the absolute commitment of 0.7% of gross national income for overseas development aid by 2007. The Taoiseach made this commitment in September 2000 yet in the past two years Government spending has fallen from 0.41% to 0.39% and the target of 0.7% has been reneged on.

As stated by the policy officer of Christian Aid, having made the solemn commitment in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit, which helped get Ireland a seat on the UN Security Council, the Government is now squandering the position of global leadership on poverty it worked hard to establish. While it may promise further increases in aid in 2006 and 2007, how can anyone trust a Government that has reversed a Cabinet decision, described by the Taoiseach in Johannesburg as our absolute commitment to reaching by 2007 the UN target, thereby breaking its word to the poorest of the poor? This is the issue before us.

Worse than that the Government is reneging on its commitment, which could have a domino effect. Since 1970, the United Nations has been encouraging the governments of developed countries to spend 0.7% of national wealth, or gross national income, on aid to developing countries. This amounts to just 70 cent in every €100. While just a handful of European countries have achieved the target of 0.7%, including, I believe, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, others have set more distant targets than Ireland, which is a critical point. If Ireland, which up to now had been giving leadership on the issue, now reneges on its goal of achieving the target by 2007, it is setting a very bad precedent for other members of the European Union to do likewise. This is one of the main reasons the commitment must be honoured now.

I find it very depressing that such a motion is before the House, as it is disgraceful for the Government to fail to honour the absolute commitment to reach the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development aid. It is a scandal that the poor of the world must wait for the Government to act while other rich countries spend more on arms than it would cost to feed the 1.3 billion living in severe poverty. This is a crime against humanity. No excuse exists for the 500 million people chronically malnourished, the 1 billion without access to safe drinking water or the 840 million illiterate adults in a world full of wealth. This is a crime and I blame the collective governments of the world especially the eight richest ones.

I raise this issue to give a voice to the poor and to the constituents of mine who have lobbied me on this most important matter. The time for debate is over and it is time the Government gave the 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid. Most people are angry about this matter and it should not be left to a few rock stars to try to raise funds for the poor and starving of the world. We need action starting now, which is planned effectively over a period of time. I am disappointed the Taoiseach has gone back on his word, particularly after the absolute commitment made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. I urge the Government to change its mind and support the original proposal of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development aid, in which case we would all win. It is never too late to change one's mind and I urge the Government to think again.

This money represents a vital cog in the distribution of wealth and resources across the world. With 840 million illiterate adults in the world, we should consider examples of good practice in literacy in countries like Cuba, where an education system works for the poor and creates generations of young people that can make a positive contribution to world peace and justice. In mentioning Cuba, we should not forget the case of the Miami five, the incredible story of five men imprisoned in the United States who were fighting terrorism against their own people. I raise this issue to challenge the hypocrisy of the Bush regime and its constant undermining of poorer countries.

Five Cubans who were trying to stop Miami-based terrorist groups from taking violent action against the people of Cuba were found guilty of charges ranging from murder to espionage by a court in Miami, which relied on the evidence of convicted terrorists. All are innocent of the charges brought against them. Extensive intimidation of jurors by these same convicted terrorists was a feature of the trial the Cubans are now appealing their convictions. The release and exoneration of the five victims of this obvious miscarriage of justice is sought. The campaign is dedicated to the memory of the 3,478 Cubans killed and the 2,099 maimed at the hands of US-based terrorist groups since 1959 in Cuba. I again raise this issue because of the attacks and constant undermining of poorer countries.

I urge all Deputies to support the motion calling on the Government to honour its commitment to reach the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development aid by 2007. I commend the motion to the House.

Addressing developing countries' indebtedness remains a crucial issue for all those working to improve the well being of poorer nations. In 2000 the Taoiseach formally announced Ireland's commitment to meeting the UN's target for overseas development aid of 0.7% of gross national income by 2007. I acknowledge that considerable progress had been made by 2002, for which an interim target of 0.45% of GNP had been set, when overseas development aid reached 0.41%. However, ominously, the level of overseas development aid remained at 0.41% in 2003, the year of the cutbacks that were not really cutbacks, but rather pauses in the rate of progress.

Unfortunately this has left the Government with a lot more to do, to coin an election slogan. The Taoiseach in 2003 reiterated the Government's commitment to further increase overseas development aid and achieve the UN target of 0.7% by 2007. Unfortunately both the Government and the recipient countries are fast running out of time for this target to be achieved. Ireland has long held a firm commitment to assisting the world's poor, which has been commended by many people, including Bono, Bob Geldof and former President Mary Robinson.

In this regard, I must commend the work of the former Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid, Deputy Kitt, now Government Chief Whip, whose own personal passion to align the level of development aid with our economic strength was never in doubt. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, observed the extent of the vast food shortages affecting the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa during his frequent visits to that continent. He frankly stated that they served as a damning indictment of our collective failure to address the needs of the most vulnerable and the needy, and he included his Government in this statement.

Food shortages are caused by many factors, including poor rains resulting in harvest failure and livestock deaths on a horrific scale. The spectre of HIV-AIDS continues to devastate virtually entire populations and along with the famine it has literally plagued the continent of Africa. Zambia, which is being visited today by the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid, Deputy Conor Lenihan, who is meeting missionaries and NGOs, witnesses an average of 150 funerals daily of people who die from HIV-AIDS.

The Minister for Finance announced an increase of €60 million or 15% in Ireland's overseas development aid allocation for 2005 in the Budget Statement. This may sound significant until one realises that it comes from a relatively low base, which is already approximately 0.44% of GNP. I urge the Government to get the overseas development aid show back on the road and to aim to adopt a progressive and incremental approach towards realising the 0.7% of GNP target by 2007.

The Government has broken the promise it made on behalf of Ireland to the world's poor. We now know that rather than the 0.5% the Government promised only three weeks ago, on its own figures we will achieve only 0.43% by 2007, which is less than we were supposed to have achieved in 2002. At this rate Ireland will not reach the UN target of 0.7% until some time in the 2030s, far from the striking distance referred to by the Minister of State. In the meantime more than 8,000 people die of HIV-AIDS every day and millions go without an education. Ireland had the opportunity to lead the world in the fight against global poverty. We had the opportunity to be in the vanguard, pushing the world to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015. Now we are swiftly losing this opportunity.

While the first millennium development goal of achieving gender parity in primary education by 2005 will not be met and developing countries need an extra €50 billion of financing to reach the millennium development goals, this Government is busy reneging on its promises. The excuses that last year we were too poor and this year we are too rich just do not wash. The UN target was expressed as a percentage precisely to allow for lower or higher growth. Other countries, like Sweden, that have committed to and achieved the target have no problem understanding this principle. The Government itself signed up to the principle at a time of high growth so presumably it knew what the target meant in real terms, as was spelt out in the report of the Ireland Aid review committee.

Next September the UN will meet to look at progress in achieving the millennium development goals. Before the Taoiseach goes to New York, he should restore Ireland's standing by putting in place a clear timetable for achieving the 0.7% target and supporting it with legislation in the Oireachtas.

The Taoiseach promised this on three separate occasions — I was there when he gave the commitment on 0.7% of GNP in Johannesburg. Is there anything we can do when a Minister or Taoiseach gives a promise like this? We can learn a lesson from our friends in Canada. Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition have called on all Canadian parties to introduce a law that makes it illegal for politicians and other public officials to lie and gives citizens an easy way to file a complaint with a new federal ethics commissioner. The legislation would give the commissioner the power to impose very high fines for lying. According to Mr. Duff Conacher, the co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, "Canadians are sick of politicians baiting voters with promises and then switching direction when they win power". Mr Conacher should come to Ireland, where lying at election time is a given for many political parties. The promise on ODA, however, is a new low because the Taoiseach used the world's poorest people as pawns in the Government's bid to get a seat on the Security Council.

The Canadian idea has some merit. In Canada, if a corporation lies in its advertising, only six Canadians need to sign and send a letter to the Competition Bureau and it will investigate and determine how the corporation lied and what corrective measures are required. If any corporation or corporate executive lies to their shareholders, the shareholders have the right to go to court to seek compensation for the damage done by the lies. Again, this is not a bad idea when one considers the recent scandals at AIB Bank. I know the Taoiseach has explained that he did not get into politics for the money but if this proposed legislation was introduced here, he would certainly be declared bankrupt and would have to leave politics. This is a man who seems to promise, and unkinder souls may even say lie, with impunity.


It is outrageous.

The promises given on ODA and the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe show that this is a Government that simply cannot be trusted. This legislation is something that I hope the Green party will press for. It is in place in one Canadian state, British Columbia. Politicians in this country need to be held to account and I look forward to the day when legislation that can hold politicians to account and impose very heavy fines for breaking election promises is introduced.

Gabhaim buíochas le Fine Gael as an deis a thabhairt dúinn labhairt ar an náire atá an Rialtas tar éis a tharraingt anuas orainn mar náisiún toisc gur lig sé an gheallúinti dtaca le cúnamh forbartha do tíortha thar lear, nó ODA, an gheallúint a thug an tUas. Bertie Ahern, mar Thaoiseach, do chruinniú mullaigh na mílaoise i 2000, dul i léig. Is trua, áfach, nár thapaigh tacathóirí an rúin seo — Fine Gael agus na páirtithe eile — an deis tacaíocht a lorg uainn mar pháirtí agus óna Teachtaí neamhspleácha mar ansin bheadh rún ceart ó iomlán an Fhreasúra againn.

Not only will the overseas development aid budget not reach 0.7% of GNP by 2007, as promised by the Taoiseach, it will not reach the 0.5% of GNP promised for 2007 by the Minister for Finance when he made his Estimates speech less than two weeks ago. It will not even reach the pre-election promise of 0.45% for 2002. By the Government's own figures for economic growth, released as part of the budget, aid will only reach 0.43% by 2007. When we analyse the figures for GNP and the ODA allocations, we realise that the Government is really committed to allocating less than 0.4% for next year with very slight increases after that. We have already seen what its commitments are worth.

This can be at best seen as the tiniest temperature fluctuation in the ODA freeze we have endured since this Government took office. There can be no more excuses. I can state unequivocally that in Government, we will achieve the minimum of 0.7% of GNP for official development assistance as an expression of our political will to ensure Ireland does its part to meet the development goals that would cut global poverty by half by 2015. That is a commitment.

We are talking about poverty and meeting UN targets. The Minister came in here and quoted figures of how great an increase there will be. If the Exchequer has increased funding to tread water, the amount spent on official development aid will increase in line with that but, because we are the fourth wealthiest nation in the world and the second wealthiest in Europe, for us to achieve the percentage as set out by the Taoiseach in 2000, there must be a substantial increase in the funding we grant to the ODA budget.

I concur with the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, who pointed out last night that previous Fine Gael-Labour coalition Governments failed to lead in this issue. Hopefully we will see more commitment in the future and the spend will increase.

We are not just looking for a commitment on this side of the House, we need the Government to live up to the commitments it made at an international summit. It was not Deputy Gormley, Deputy Allen or I who made the commitment, it was the Government and it has shamed us internationally by refusing to live up to it. That commitment is like the Taoiseach's commitment to socialism, it is not genuine, it is not worth the words that came out of his mouth. That has been proven time and again and it has been proven on this issue that is so important for the millions around the world who are dependent on us, the wealthiest nations in the world that are supposed to lead by example and to give the money so these countries can develop and enjoy the fruits we have enjoyed.

I thank Deputy Allen for tabling this important motion. No other issue has seen Members of this House as united in condemnation of the Government than the reneging on a promise made to the poorest of the world.

Regardless of party or politics, those of us who care about the less well off were proud of the fact that our Taoiseach, on a world stage, led the way and made a commitment on behalf of Ireland. Unfortunately, it looks as if the Taoiseach's only commitment was to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The fact that so many African countries supported our candidature was proof that they believed the commitment he made.

Was the issue discussed at Cabinet before the Taoiseach made that commitment and, if so, was there a further Cabinet discussion before the decision was made to renege on that promise?

That is a good question. Will the Minister of State answer it?

I congratulate the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, on her straight talking. She stood up as Minister of State at a time when there were questions over the Government's commitment to the Third World. I will be interested to see how she carries through on her statement when the vote is taken. As she said, education — apart from actual gifts — in the Third World such as Africa, is so important. We have a major commitment to that, as has been shown in the past by missionaries from all churches. When a commitment is made by the Taoiseach they deserve to know they can stand over it. The former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, was also extremely committed and like Deputy O'Donnell he made it clear we should meet our targets. However, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is happy to go out and stand in the middle of Africa and inform us there is no way the Government will meet its commitments. There is a massive difference in the attitude of the Ministers now in office.

It is vital given that the economy is progressing reasonably well, a matter in which we can all take pride, that we must also be able to take pride in looking after the poorest of the poor. Not long ago we were exporting 40,000 of our people to London, Birmingham, Canada and so on and the difficulties being experienced by some of them should be examined with a view to helping them financially. Any voluntary group that seeks help for the Third World gets a generous reaction from the people. If the Government did the same I do not think there would be an outcry or any resignations from the House. I beg the Government to re-examine the issue. To say the money, if given, could not be handled is bunkum.

It is disgraceful.

It is totally unacceptable and should not be the ethos of any group that is trying to put money away for the next election because that is what I believe this is all about.

I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this most important motion. That the motion is before the House is an indication of the problem that has arisen in the current Administration. The whole issue arises from one of broken promises, a solemn undertaking given to achieve a certain commitment in regard to Ireland's contribution to overseas development aid, not only to this House but throughout the world for a particular purpose. Then something extraordinary happened. The Minister designate, before he was properly appointed, indicated that the budget for his Department should be cut. That is the first time in the history of the State that an incoming Minister decided the budget for his Department should be cut before he took up office. He tried to justify that afterwards but there are more serious implications.

There is also the creation of the image of Ireland. A promise was given by the Taoiseach, the Government and the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, who had given a commitment that Ireland would achieve a certain standard in setting the pace for others to follow. The effect was that the potential recipients of overseas development aid could look at the international map and say that Ireland, a country that knew and understood the position, was prepared to a make a commitment. What a disappointment for them when they heard that the Minister said he should have less money, that he could not spend it all.

According to the Government, Ireland is one of the happiest countries of the world. We are among the top ten wealthiest countries. What message does the Government attitude convey to those in need throughout the world when, given our previous solemn promise, we have decided to change our attitude? That is a bad vibe and a bad decision and is in keeping with the previous decisions of the Government.

All Members recognise the needs of those in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere. It is sad that there is a question mark over whether the aid that was deemed necessary initially is necessary. At this time in our history it is pertinent to recognise that we may have poverty here. There are situations of deprivation, despite the riches the Government thinks we should all indulge in on a regular basis. There are people in other parts of the world who are in the throes in poverty, the extent of which we can only imagine. It is a sad reality that we recognise, or more properly fail to recognise, the people who would be in a good position to help, having been in that position not so long ago. In the past 150 years we have been in that position many times and we, more than anybody else on this planet, should know what it is like to be without, to want, to appeal to the outer community for help. We would expect that the Irish Government would be able to respond favourably in that situation. It is a source of great disappointment that we are in this position.

I pay tribute to the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs who had responsibility for this area. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, will not comment but I wish to give her credit for what she has done to date. While I understand what she has to do tonight, I would like her to vote with the motion. The fact remains that the standard she has set is a need that was already identified by people here and abroad.

I could not quite believe the decision of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to so soon in office abandon some of the core values of the Irish programme. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development, our programme is one everybody in Ireland can look at with pride as something positive that has been achieved. When Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in Government on their own in the late 1980s the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, savaged the aid programme to the point where it all but disappeared. When the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil took office in 1992 one of the points of agreement in the formation of the Government was to systematically increase the spend on aid to bring our contribution up to the 0.7% level.

Governments of all persuasions and combinations have enthusiastically attempted to honour the commitment since that time, until the recent reshuffle when Deputy Conor Lenihan was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for this area. I refer to the rainbow coalition and the coalitions between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats since 1997. There were significant increases in this country's overseas development aid budget when those Governments were in power. All parties in the House have given a commitment to further development in this area.

I was concerned by comments made recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, during a debate on RTE about the advocacy work of organisations like Trócaire and Concern. I will put my cards on the table by reminding the House that Trócaire was involved in advocacy when, along with many Irish people, it helped to develop an understanding in Ireland of the nature of apartheid.

That is right.

That is what advocacy is all about. Trócaire and Concern have informed Irish people about what it is like to live in poor, developing countries and have explained how such problems might be remedied. If the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, has reservations about advocacy, I invite him to spell them out. The neo-con agenda, which originates in the United States, views advocacy in respect of global human rights, such as the right to economic and social development, as worthy in some way of being viewed with disfavour. I hope the Minister of State has not based his views on advocacy on the ideas of neo-con writers on the issue in the United States. If he has taken his opinions from such people, it is a bad omen for the Irish aid programme, which enjoyed cross-party support in the House from 1992 until now. The Minister of State referred to the production of a White Paper on this matter. I hope the opportunity presented by that process will be used to revive the promises the Government has badly broken and to renew the commitment it freely entered into.

I know certain people inside and outside Iveagh House think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to spend properly the expanded aid budget which would be available if we decided to meet the 0.7% commitment. The comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, suggest that he believes that is the case. As a former development worker and a former Minister of State with responsibility for this area, I think such an argument is absolute piffle and rubbish.

Hear, hear.

I could list many things on which the money could be spent, but I will mention just a couple, such as AIDS.

Almost one third of the people of Botswana, for example, are HIV positive. The moneys could be used to buy drugs to fight the absolute scourge of malaria. It is relatively easy to invest in such drugs, thereby producing huge dividends. We could also invest significantly, perhaps as a memorial to the missionaries about whom many Deputies rightly speak with pride, in the training of teachers, doctors and nurses in the many African countries which face development challenges. If the Minister of State were to embark on such an ambitious investment programme, he would not have any problem spending 0.7% of GNP. If he continues to have difficulties in finding things to spend the funds on, we will do it for him.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. I commend my colleague, Deputy Allen, for tabling the motion before the House.

Ireland has a positive reputation for responding to international crises and assisting under-developed countries. The OECD development assistance committee has commended Ireland for its sharp focus on poverty reduction. All well-off countries face the huge challenge of making an impact and improving the quality of life of the poorest people on earth.

Like some other Members, I recently visited Zambia to see the excellent work being done by Development Co-operation Ireland. Ireland's bilateral aid to Zambia, which has a population of 10.8 million, amounted to €14.65 million in 2003. That money was well worth spending. HIV-AIDS is arguably the greatest threat to overcoming the chronic poverty experienced by 80% of Zambia's population. DCI has had a strategy of supporting those affected and infected by HIV-AIDS at all levels, from household to national level. It supported orphans and vulnerable children in two of Zambia's nine provinces in 2003. During my visit to Zambia, I visited an AIDS hospice in Lusaka. I will never forget the image of a young mother and her son, both of whom had been infected with the HIV virus.

I commend the work done by many Irish missionaries who work tirelessly in remote regions throughout the world. I had an opportunity to meet many of the missionaries, whose work often goes unnoticed, during my visit to Zambia. Some of them are teaching there and others are working with AIDS, irrigation and communications projects. Members of the House are the missionaries' voice in this country. Overseas aid is the most practical way in which the Irish people, through the Government, can assist those who need help most.

Deputy Allen was correct to say last night that 8,000 people die from AIDS every day. Some 25% of the population of Zambia suffer from AIDS. Money and education are needed to curtail the disease, which is the biggest obstacle to reducing poverty and achieving the millennium development goals. Our capacity to respond at all levels depends on strong leadership and the allocation of adequate resources. Similarly, malaria is a major killer in the world's poor regions.

The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, has argued that Ireland's total overseas aid package will be worth €1.8 billion over the next three years. He acknowledges that we will not reach the 0.7% target, but his claim that we will be within "striking distance" of the figure by 2007 is not good enough. The Minister of State has started his first ministerial visit to a Third World country, where he will see poverty, disease stricken areas and, above all, the significant work being done by Irish people, including missionaries. When he returns, I hope he will have had a change of heart. He should seek increased funding from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen.

I commend the Minister of State's predecessors, Deputies Kitt and O'Donnell, who did tremendous work in the overseas development area. The work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has been commended by officials from other countries. The Government's stance in this regard, which is not good enough, is setting a bad example for other countries. Following a successful EU Presidency, it is a shame that the Government has reneged on its promise. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to think again about this important matter. The Taoiseach promised at the United Nations millennium summit in 2000 that Ireland would meet its target, a commitment that he reiterated at the global summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002. I commend Deputy Allen for bringing this motion to the House.

Is cúis áthais dom seans a bheith agam an rún a fhreagrú. Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar an díospóireacht a bhí againn anocht agus aréir. Tacaím leis an oráid a thug an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Conchúir Ó Luineacháin, sa Teach aréir. I express my appreciation, and that of my ministerial and departmental colleagues, of the contributions to this important debate from those on all sides of the House. It is clear the House is united in its support for the Government's development co-operation programme. It is united in its determination to ensure that Ireland continues to play a meaningful and important role in combating global poverty and the marginalisation of many millions from the benefits of social, economic and political inclusion.

In light of the various statistics which have appeared in the media, it is important to reiterate that the level of development assistance provided by the Government is at an historic high and is destined to be even higher in the years to come. It is important for people to understand that we are gradually moving up the ladder.

The Minister of State is talking about snakes and ladders.

The Government is making a bigger contribution rather than cutting budgets.

It is not reaching its targets.

Ireland's current spending in this area of approximately €475 million puts it in the top league of donors. Its allocation is well above the EU average as a percentage of GNP and the increase of €190 million over the next three years will ensure that it maintains this high position. The way we spend money in the developing world is as important as providing the money. The quality of our programme has been lauded internationally and the work of Irish development workers and NGOs warrants substantial international respect.

The Government broke its commitment.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, pointed out consistently, including during last night's debate, there has been no cutback in overseas development aid.

The Government broke its word.

Instead, the Minister of State has achieved major increases and deserves to be congratulated thereon.

The Government will not reach its target.

When the executive director of the World Food Programme visited Ireland during our EU Presidency, he specifically referred to the humanitarian work of the many Irish NGOs operating in the field. Much of this humanitarian endeavour is being funded by the Government's development programme. We are also funding the key UN agencies, such as the World Food Programme. This agency is a key partner for Ireland and we can safely say we have assisted it in saving thousands, if not millions, of lives in recent years.

I received a personal letter from the director of the World Food Programme thanking me for my contribution as former Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, complimenting Ireland on its significant contribution to overseas development aid and looking forward to more such contributions.

What is the date on the letter?

It is dated 24 November 2004. The director regards Ireland as one of the World Food Programme's closest partners and recognises its positive programmes and absolute commitment to continuing to increase the resources we make available to the World Food Programme and overseas development aid on a consistent basis. In any analysis of a country's development programme, it is not sufficient to look solely at overall aid flows in terms of cash and percentages. It is also necessary to consider where and how development funds are spent. Our development programme is totally untied, in line with best practice. This means the goods and services provided represent best value and often help to establish local service providers. We do not link our aid to Irish goods and services, nor do we place conditions on cash transfers or set up obstacles thereto.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, wanted to look at that.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. I will respond to her points shortly.

Most importantly, our funding goes to the poorest countries of the world. There are only six countries delivering more than 0.15% of GNP to the least developed countries.

The Deputy is now comparing Ireland to the worst countries.

Ireland is one of the six and we have provided the greatest increase of all six in terms of delivering aid to the poorest of the world. We should be proud of that.

The Government broke its word.

The Government broke its promise again.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

The issue of HIV-AIDS was raised during the debate. I fully subscribe to the view that the HIV-AIDS pandemic represents the single greatest challenge to social and economic progress in the developing world. How can progress be achieved when so many teachers, health workers and public servants are stricken with the virus? The private sector, which must, in the final analysis, provide the engine of growth in poor countries, is also deeply constrained by the effects of the syndrome. A whole generation has been orphaned in countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe. Ireland is playing a key role in international and local efforts to combat this scourge.

Combating HIV-AIDS represents the greatest single thematic expenditure across our aid programme. We are working at every level in this regard, from vaccine research to local education and community care. We will expend almost €50 million on HIV-AIDS in 2004. Deputies will be aware of our efforts to raise awareness of HIV-AIDS during our EU Presidency. One example of this was the major HIV-AIDS conference organised by the Presidency last February. We will continue to ensure that HIV-AIDS continues to be afforded the utmost priority in the aid programme.

If one adds the €475 million committed to overseas development aid in 2004, the commitments in this regard for the next three years and our contribution of €6 million to the World Food Programme in 2004, one will note that over the next four years, Ireland will make an official contribution of some €2.3 billion to overseas development aid and the World Food Programme. We must all be very proud of this.

Deputy Burton stated that every Government, of all colours, made significant increases to overseas development aid and she criticised the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. However, the Minister of State has secured an increase of 15% for next year. This is surely significant and will amount to €1.8 billion over the next three years, or €2.3 billion over the next four years. This is significant money in anyone's language. The Minister of State should be congratulated on this achievement and not castigated.

I pay tribute to Deputy Burton, a former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for overseas development aid who has experience as a development aid worker. However, our overseas development aid contribution has increased by 500% since she was in power——

However, she did not break her word.

——bearing in mind the growth in resources and everyone's personal and political commitment, on a consensus, collective basis, to this very important area.

On the target of 0.7% of GNP, I have noted the concerns expressed across the House. I acknowledge the disappointment felt in the House, and beyond, that we will not reach the target by 2007. Deputies will be fully aware that the Estimates process is a difficult one and the Exchequer faces many competing and deserving demands. The increases obtained are very sizeable, amounting to the largest in our history. In addition, we have received a three-year commitment, which provides an excellent opportunity for careful planning and implementation.

Some Deputies have raised the issue of establishing a legislative basis for the target. We have considered this suggestion. I am not convinced of the merits of this possible course of action. Enshrining expenditure commitments in legislation could create precedents that could be invoked in many areas of expenditure. The Government requires flexibility to manage the economy and has the constitutional right and responsibility to do so.

The large aid increases outlined in the recent budget are the minimum now available to us. I fully support the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, in his efforts——

Did the Minister say "his efforts"?

——to review the timetable for the achievement of the UN target and congratulate him thereon. We will examine this again in the new year to see how we can best proceed——

The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, was a failure from the start.

——and continue to make and increase our overseas development aid contributions in a positive manner in the years ahead.

I wish to share time with Deputy Kenny.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This motion is about a debt of honour owed by the Irish people to the poorest of the world. In 2000, our Taoiseach committed this country and its people to increasing official development assistance to 0.7% of GNP. As I stated in the House last week, the Government has made much of this promise. Many plaudits have been bestowed on Government, many bows have been taken and many photo-calls have resulted.

However unthinkable it may be that we should break our promise under such circumstances, it is not the cost to Ireland's international reputation that concerns me most, but the breach of faith with the poorest of the world's poor. In international relations, nations are often judged on their economic, military or diplomatic prowess, but in the affairs of people we are judged not on how we deal with those who can do us good or ill but on how we treat those who have no means of compelling our good treatment. Ireland is a country with a deep commitment to humanitarian action across the globe. From Afghanistan to Zambia and everywhere in between, Irish people are engaged in development work in the world's poorest countries. Some have gone to these countries in the uniform of this State, wearing the blue beret of the United Nations. More than 40,000 Irish soldiers have served the causes of peace and peace-keeping in some of the most difficult arenas of the world and many have died. Other people have travelled to the countries in question in the habit of a religious order while others have vested themselves in the simple cloak of common humanity.

In recent weeks, we became all too aware of the work undertaken by people with Irish connections in both Afghanistan and Iraq and of the risks they run. There is a certain irony in the fact that the Irish were so moved by the death of Margaret Hassan and so aware of the humanitarian work she was doing. The irony lies in the fact that, at almost exactly the same time as the Government was making extensive and genuine efforts to save the life of Mrs. Hassan, it was breaking its promise to the people of the developing world.

As I stated last week, Irish people have gone to help the world in countless numbers and their contribution has been incalculable. It is long past time that the State matched their contribution with an enduring financial commitment. Let there be no misunderstanding that this is not a matter regarding which the Government would have to persuade the Opposition. There is total support, across all parties, for doing whatever it takes to meet and keep meeting the UN target. Ever since the commitment was first made in the White Paper on Foreign Policy, published by my predecessor, Dick Spring, and augmented by Deputy O'Donnell and the Taoiseach, this issue has not been contentious, nor was it contentious when the Government put a date on the realisation of the UN target. It is therefore all the more inexplicable that the Government has chosen to abandon the target against that background. If the Government said that because it was determined to meet the UN target it would have to cut back on some other aspects of our representation abroad or even the entertainment budget, we would not have argued with that. It is long past time that our national contribution to official development assistance was removed from the annual haggling of the Estimates process. I do not agree with the Minister of State's point about ring-fencing it by legislation.

As a nation and a society we can and must decide on the portion of our national income that we will devote to overseas development aid each year. We should set that portion aside each year. Accordingly, I proposed and am sorry the Government will not take up the suggestion that Ireland's overseas development aid should be made a charge on the central fund, as with the national pension reserve fund, which would be a fixed proportion of gross national product to be paid over each year to a national overseas development aid fund from which development aid should be disbursed. If it cannot all be wisely spent in one year, it can be spent in the next. Any funds not spent on Ireland's aid programmes can be contributed to UN-led efforts such as the global fund on HIV-AIDS, TB and malaria. The fund would also be in a position to disburse aid to areas of crisis such as Darfur.

The Labour Party will maintain the campaign on this issue. Tomorrow we will launch a postcard campaign under the title, Let Them Know It's Christmas, to make the public as aware as possible that this Government is reneging on a solemn commitment even though there is no need to do so.

I congratulate Deputy Allen on moving this motion on overseas development aid, and the Labour Party and Green Party for the contributions they have made in joining this effort.

The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, once famously, and with some irritation, said in this House: "I wonder how many different ways we have to say ‘no' for people to get the message." He was referring to the release of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, but he and his Government protested too much because it is clear now that the Government's constantly repeated "no" really meant "yes".

When it comes to overseas development aid, however, the opposite holds true. That assumes that, given the events of recent days, the words "true" and "this Government" could be used in the same sentence. We might have seen half the Cabinet on their feet, at home and abroad, wondering this time how many ways they have to say "yes" for people to get the message that they were serious about meeting their overseas development aid target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. For the past five years the Government's answer has been "yes". As the Taoiseach put it in Argentina, Ireland is putting its money where its mouth is.

The Government said "yes" at the Millennium Summit, in Argentina a year later and in Johannesburg a year after that. In the same year, 2002, it said "yes" in the programme for Government and in the progress report a few months ago, in Sustaining Progress, to the United Nations in New York, in the human development report, to the World Association of Newspapers congress and to the Dáil. A few weeks ago, in the salubrious surroundings of Dublin Castle I watched the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, look the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in the eye and tell him, in all the solemn splendour surrounding him, that this Government would definitely meet its target of spending 0.7% of GNP on overseas development aid.

The truth was definitely "no". When it became clear that the nos had it, we were treated to another round of some in the Progressive Democrats Party behaving like the Opposition, as if the Government in which the smaller partner exists symbiotically had nothing to do with them. The notable exception to this was Deputy O'Donnell. Speaking on overseas development aid the Tánaiste said: "My strong view is that we cannot abandon one commitment without having an alternative commitment." What is that commitment? A few weeks ago, she spoke about overseas development aid in the disgraceful context of: "the many competing demands in the area of disability, health care and so on".

That attitude is best summed up by the woman with a disability who contacted my office after hearing those remarks and said she was outraged that people with disabilities were referred to as a competing demand. She asked why two sectors, overseas development aid and disability, should be linked in any way, shape or form and whether the horse-racing industry was not a competing demand. She said she was ashamed that this country had not honoured its commitment to developing countries, but that she would not accept that the disability sector had anything to do with it.

The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Deputy Conor Lenihan wanted to inject some realism, as he put it, into this debate. This is the realism. In the course of this ten minute contribution, 60 children will die of a vaccine-preventable illness and 80 babies under a month old will die worldwide. By the time I finish at 8.30 p.m., ten African children will have died of measles, 450,000 of whom die of it every year. Every minute I or anybody else stands speaking in this House, at least one woman in the developing countries will die in childbirth. Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria. Today, 8,000 people will die of AIDS. By the end of this year, just like every year, whooping cough will have killed 300,000 children and diarrhoea 600,000 more under the age of five years. In 2001, tetanus alone killed 200,000 new-borns and 30,000 mothers. That is realism.

It is the kind of realism that makes the self-congratulatory tone of Government contributions to the debate all the more distasteful. It is the realism that people in developing countries do not so much live with but die of every day. It is clear from what I and others in the Opposition have said that overseas aid is not charity; it is justice, freedom, health, education, opportunity and responsibility. Today is 8 December, the official start to the Christmas season. There are 17 shopping days to Christmas and, while half the world is at risk from obesity, the other half is dying of hunger.

What we give in aid now and have promised to give is a minuscule fraction of our wealth. The spin that, proportionately, our aid levels are up, diminishes not just the Government but all of us as a nation. It is only 150 years since the Famine which claimed millions of Irish people through death and emigration. When we consider how far we have come and think how much we have 150 years on, should we not be the first to lead by example, reach out and allocate the 0.7% of GNP which the Government committed in our name on the world stage to the world's poorest, most helpless people? It is our moral duty and is nothing more than our wealth, privilege and commitment oblige us to do. When John Donne wrote "I am involved in mankind", he meant all of us.

The millennium development goals are realistic and achievable. Halving poverty and hunger, providing education for all, improving standards of health, halting the spread of major diseases such as HIV-AIDS and slowing down the degradation of our environment in the next ten years are all eminently achievable if the political will exists. If we do not meet our stated target, far from using the excuse that everyone else is doing it, so why not us, we should not give just the 0.7% of GNP promised but should actively campaign for other countries to follow our lead.

We would do well to remember where we came from. Europe received $75 billion worth of aid from America after the Second World War. I would like to see the European Union mobilise global action and resources for health research so that we can target developing countries and prevent both the spread of and death from diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV-AIDS. These diseases that mainly affect developing counties receive only a tiny fraction of the current drug-research budgets, and it is painfully obvious that a breakthrough in the treatment of these diseases could save millions of lives. Someone said to me recently that the OECD countries have gone over the horizon from the Third World countries in terms of development.

Of the 1,400 pharmaceutical entities produced in the recent years, only ten have resonance for developing countries and, of that ten, only two apply to people. We could do a great deal more in spending the money we have and co-ordinating European focus and concentration on dealing with the causes of pestilence, disease, crop failure and so on. The future of the developing countries is our responsibility. Every child who dies and every little girl who does not get a chance to go to school simply because she is a little girl is not the business of somebody else, it is ours. Our choices affect their lives. That is the realism. The Government is happy to leave it to someone else, but we are not, and I am sure that large numbers of people in the country share our position. There is certainly work to do in streamlining the reach and delivery capacity of the various aid organisations. Notwithstanding that, it is a small world, and in that small world there is no such thing as other people's children, they are all our children and our responsibility. I urge the Government to honour the absolute commitment made to reach the UN target by 2007. I support the calls from various Opposition benches and the motion introduced by Deputy Allen. We have a duty to introduce legislation, to operate in a similar way to the national pension reserve fund, to place a statutory obligation on any Irish Government to allocate a sum of 0.7% of GNP from the Exchequer towards ODA annually. That is a good basis for us, when asked Seamus Heaney's question "Who is my brother?", to answer truly and honestly that everyone is.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 63; Níl, 57.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghail, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.


  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.