1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the cost of the recent Cabinet meeting held in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20757/05]
Vol. 606 No. 1
1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the cost of the recent Cabinet meeting held in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20757/05]
2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he intends holding further Cabinet meetings outside Dublin during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20758/05]
3 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the cost of Cabinet meetings held outside Dublin to date during the current Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24381/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The cost arising to my Department for the Government meeting in City Hall, Cork on 8 June 2005 was €5,811. This is accounted for mainly by support staff accommodation, overtime and expenses. The cost of the other Cabinet meeting held outside Dublin during this Dáil in Emo, County Laois on 3 September 2003 was €3,739.
Holding Government meetings outside Dublin is very much welcomed by local communities and provides an opportunity to meet local organisations and groups. To date, eight meetings have been held outside Dublin in counties Cork, Laois, Roscommon, Waterford, Louth, Kerry and Donegal. There are no specific further meetings planned at this stage.
While I know a greater distance is involved, clearly it is cheaper to hold a Cabinet meeting in Emo than in Cork. Does the Taoiseach plan to hold other Cabinet meetings outside Dublin this year? Does he have a list of such meetings? Is it his intention to hold them in constituencies that might be deemed to be key marginals? Does he have any report on the fulfilment of the decisions taken at those Cabinet meetings? When the Cabinet came to Ballaghaderreen in convoy there was great speculation that all the announcements would deal with all the infrastructural projects in the west of Ireland. God bless our naivety.
I believe they are all fulfilled, including the roads at Ballinasloe, Sligo and Kinnegad. No other meetings are fixed for this year. By and large any of the ones we had were around some occasion to show respect to some event that was going on. The one in Ballaghaderreen was to open up the new BMW offices and the one in Cork was because it is European Capital of Culture. There are no specific meetings planned for the remainder of this year.
The Taoiseach has answered the question in part. What criteria would he regard as appropriate in determining where Cabinet meetings would be held outside the city of Dublin? Would he not accept there is a view that these meetings are used in a party political way rather than in a Cabinet or governmental way as the publicity generated is intended to reflect well on the Government parties? Is this an appropriate use of public moneys? I do not regard it as so. These eight excursions by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats into the provinces have been financed by public money, unlike the visit of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party to Ballyconnell in my constituency and that of the Ceann Comhairle, to which it is very welcome, which was at the party's own expense.
Does the Deputy have a question?
My question is clear and apparent as I have put it to the Taoiseach. Is it appropriate that the Cabinet, consisting of the representatives of both parties in Government, would use public moneys in promoting their political programme in external situations to the sitting of Government in the capital city?
Whether it is held in Dublin or elsewhere, I do not see a Cabinet meeting having anything to do with party political issues. The Government normally holds such meetings if there is some good reason. We held a meeting in Louth at the time of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, one in Cork as it is the European Capital of Culture and one in Waterford as it was an important year in Waterford. That is the reason: it is a commemoration. All that would happen in addition to that is that Ministers and perhaps departmental officials might meet organisations in that area rather than them always having to come to Dublin. It is a very appropriate way. Why it did not happen over the decades for one reason or another is interesting enough. However, while I would not do it all the time, bringing the Government to the people in various regions now and again is a very good thing. I do not see any great advantage other than good communications with organisations and people around the country. As can be seen it is a very cheap way of doing a day's business.
I call Deputy Rabbitte.
May I ask a supplementary question?
I have called Deputy Rabbitte.
Will the Ceann Comhairle come back to me please?
Deputy Kenny wants to know whether the Taoiseach has any further plans to hold Cabinet meetings in marginal constituencies. I would suggest the Deputy is inviting the Taoiseach on to a sucker punch. Given the unpopularity of some of his Ministers visiting constituencies, the last thing I would do in his position is bring all of them to a location. It would be very likely to have a counterproductive impact.
Deputy Rabbitte should mix with the people.
Deputy Rabbitte should be allowed to speak without interruption.
If the greater part of the——
Deputy Rabbitte should do as the Taoiseach does. He should mix with the people and not wine and dine.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs should allow Deputy Rabbitte to speak without interruption.
Deputy Rabbitte should mix with the proletariat.
He should visit Tallaght.
I think I detect a snore from the bench of Deputy Conor Lenihan. If the greater part of the cost relates to the cost of back-up staff and servicing the staff does this give the Taoiseach cause for pause in terms of displacing the top tiers of the Civil Service to different locations around the country. How are Government and key Departments to do their business if key senior personnel have been displaced to Knock, Donegal or wherever?
Having meetings of the Government around the country from time to time is very useful. In this case very few officials need to move. I do not see the difficulty. More and more I see modern technology being used for meetings. I am sure the Deputy sees it himself when he attends corporate offices. Not alone do their meetings take place around the country but around the world. I recently attended part of a private sector organisation's board meeting, which I believe linked up to 26 countries. The world has moved on and communications have moved on. There is no difficulty with these issues.
Many places have yet to get broadband.
We are moving well in that regard also. They have adequate technology in most places in the country.
I find the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, difficult enough at this pace, whatever about having to video-conference with him.
The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.
I do not believe that in the old days it used happen that every time a meeting was held 44 officials were required. I put a stop to that. There is no need for that number of people parading around the place at all hours of the night. Much of that stuff was unnecessary. Modern techniques, modern management, the Public Service Management Act etc. have led to far more streamlining. There are times when the senior people need to get together. However, modern technology has entered and there is no great difficulty in it.
I do not think any officials were present at the former Deputy Burke's meeting with the exploration companies, but I trust that is not a pattern being set by the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach might tell us about locations about which he has not told us, but which he might consider for Cabinet meetings, in areas where people perhaps are in fear of crime, for example. For the Cabinet to meet in such areas would at least re-establish a sense of belonging or safety, at least for the time during which the Garda would protect the Taoiseach in such locations.
The Deputy should confine himself to a question.
Is the Taoiseach taking into account where and for what reasons a Cabinet meeting might take place? I suggest for example Rossport, where people feel that Shell is the government. By holding a Cabinet meeting in Rossport, the Taoiseach could establish that Shell does not have the run of the place and that the Government has an interest in the area.
Can the Taoiseach assure us regarding the cost he has indicated with regard to the Cabinet meetings held, ranging from €5,800 to €3,700? Eight such meetings have so far been held, so we are talking of a figure of between €30,000 and €40,000. Is that a comprehensive costing or is it applicable only to the hire of hotels or other venues? When the Taoiseach refers to meeting and facilitating people, it is not my understanding that people have the opportunity to come to Cabinet. What criteria does the Taoiseach use in facilitating people, and what people are facilitated? Many people would love the opportunity to meet any Minister, never mind the full Cabinet.
That does not arise.
How does the Taoiseach decide? Who does the Taoiseach meet and facilitate? What interests are looming large in his thoughts?
The Deputy's party has no difficulty in that regard because I regularly meet its representatives. When I am not with them at meetings, I meet them outside the door protesting. Last week in my constituency, when, along with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions I attempted to launch a book on James Connolly all the Deputy's people battered me with posters.
That was with regard to the Rossport five.
Is that what they were doing?
I thank the Taoiseach for acknowledging that the people involved were campaigning so well.
There were a few of the Deputy's foreign compatriots there too.
The Taoiseach looks quite unscathed.
The Deputy's friends from ETA almost damaged a State car, which would have cost more than €3,000.
The resources for setting up useful Cabinet meetings with groups of people are low. We have held such meetings with farming groups, chambers of commerce groups and unemployed action groups, We have gone to Knocknaheeney and to working class areas such as referred to by Deputy Sargent, where people feel there are difficulties and improvements have been made. We have gone to various areas of unemployment on many occasions. The Cabinet went to Kerry because of the national park being closed and it met in Louth during the foot and mouth disease crisis. We have tried to have such Cabinet meetings sparingly, but always for a particular purpose, and not just for the sake of meeting.
4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the President of Serbia and Montenegro; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22457/05]
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for the forthcoming visit of the President of the European Commission have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22458/05]
6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he plans to undertake during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24235/05]
7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet the President of the European Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24236/05]
8 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with other European Union heads of government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24240/05]
9 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the meeting of the European Council in October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24246/05]
10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on 6 July 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24363/05]
11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans for official trips abroad up to the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24367/05]
12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the next EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24379/05]
13 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Paul Martin, on 5 July 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24387/05]
14 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, on 30 June 2005. [24388/05]
15 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent UN General Assembly to review the millennium goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24520/05]
16 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has been in touch with the US administration to convey the sympathy of the Irish people on the deaths and destruction caused by hurricane Katrina; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24839/05]
17 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly. [24841/05]
18 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the United States. [25003/05]
19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meetings he held on the margins of the recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25004/05]
20 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the UN summit in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25018/05]
21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the agenda of the upcoming European Council meeting in October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25186/05]
22 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25188/05]
23 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his speech to the Enterprise Ireland luncheon in New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25189/05]
24 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent official trip to New York. [25190/05]
25 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the French Minister for European Affairs; his views on her statement that the French Government would not seek a second referendum on the EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25191/05]
26 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican in July 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25199/05]
27 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the progress of the Government’s plans to initiate structured dialogue with the churches and faith communities; if this initiative was discussed during his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25200/05]
28 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the recent contacts he has had with other EU leaders concerning the status of the proposed EU constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25203/05]
29 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the official foreign visits he plans undertaking during the remainder of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25204/05]
30 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the role he envisages for the National Forum on Europe in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25207/05]
31 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to New York. [25331/05]
32 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with former US President Mr. Bill Clinton. [25332/05]
33 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent United Nations General Assembly summit in New York. [25333/05]
34 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin with the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Catherine Colonna. [25340/05]
35 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any bilateral meetings he held on the margins of the recent United Nations General Assembly summit in New York. [25346/05]
36 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the informal meeting of EU heads of state and government to be held on 27 and 28 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25348/05]
37 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has received an agenda for the informal meeting of EU heads of state and government to be held on 27 and 28 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25349/05]
38 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the official visits abroad he plans to make during the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25351/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 38, inclusive, together.
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, visited Dublin on Thursday, 30 June. I had a friendly and comprehensive meeting with the President which covered the broad range of issues on the European agenda including the European Constitution, enlargement and the ongoing negotiations on the financial perspectives. I informed him of our intention to use the period of reflection decided at the June European Council to promote an active and engaged debate on the Constitution and Europe in general. I also used the meeting to reiterate the fundamental importance of respecting the European Council agreement of October 2002 on the Common Agricultural Policy.
While there are no plans to have another bilateral meeting with President Barroso in the immediate future, I will meet him at the informal meeting of Heads of State or Government in October and the December European Council.
On 20 June, I met President Marovic of Serbia and Montenegro during his official visit to Ireland. We discussed the developing relations between Serbia and Montenegro and the European Union and agreed on the potential which exists for building up our bilateral relations, both political and economic. The President's chief concern was to obtain reassurance on the EU's continuing commitment to the Western Balkans in light of the outcome of the June European Council and the recent French and Dutch referendums on the EU Constitution. He also sought Ireland's support within the EU for early progress in the negotiation of a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro.
I assured the President that, as set out in the European Council conclusions, Ireland and the other member states are committed to the implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda of June 2003, which recognises that the future of the region lies in the European Union. The EU will not change its long-term commitment to working with the countries of the Western Balkans towards their eventual integration into European structures.
I strongly welcomed the significant improvement in Serbia's relations with the tribunal in the Hague. I pointed out that the eventual arrest of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic would enable much more rapid progress in relations with the EU and the wider international community. President Marovic assured me of the state union's commitment to ensuring that full co-operation is achieved with the tribunal as soon as possible. The EU hopes to open negotiations for an agreement with Serbia and Montenegro in the coming months. I assured President Marovic of Ireland's support throughout the process ahead. The President and I also discussed regional issues, including the situation in Kosovo. I briefed him on the declaration on Kosovo agreed at the European Council. I expressed the hope that real progress will be made in the near future on the development of constructive dialogue at all levels between Belgrade and Pristina and between the different communities in Kosovo.
I welcomed the Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, to Government Buildings on 5 July. Our discussions were useful and cordial. We discussed the excellent Ireland-Canada trade relations, the Canada-Ireland working holiday programme, EU-Canada relations, UN reform and the G8 Summit. I expressed Ireland's gratitude for Canada's continued support to the International Fund for Ireland. Prime Minister Martin, who had earlier been in Ireland to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Air India disaster, thanked the Irish people for their response to the tragedy and for the similar response to the Canadian submarine fire tragedy.
I was honoured to be received by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on 7 July. The meeting marked a further milestone in the long and fruitful national relationship with the Papacy. Our meeting was largely an opportunity to reflect with his Holiness on current developments in Ireland and Europe. We discussed the sustained building of a sense of community among the peoples of the European Union. We also spoke of the external relationships of Europe and the responsibilities of developed States to respond to the real poverty that continues in many states. I described in outline the structured dialogue soon to commence in Ireland between the State and churches, faith communities and non-confessional bodies. Preparatory arrangements for this dialogue are well advanced and I intend to make further announcements in this regard shortly.
As this meeting came so soon after the Pope's appointment, I offered my congratulations and best wishes for his success in meeting the many challenges that will arise in his leadership of the Catholic Church.
The National Forum on Europe is an independent body. It is, therefore, a matter for them to decide how best to continue facilitating debate on matters of importance on the European agenda. In the coming months the Forum will play a leading role in taking forward the national debate on Europe that was launched at the June European Council. The Government has stressed that the debate should be open and inclusive. To aid the debate, my Department has recently published the third edition of "Ireland and the European Union: Identifying Priorities and Pursuing Goals". The basic objective of the publication is to inform people, in a clear and concise fashion about the Government's priorities and goals across a wide range of EU policy issues. I will arrange for a copy to be sent to each Deputy.
There will be no regular meeting of the European Council in October. Instead, the British Presidency has convened an informal meeting of Heads of State or Government on 27 and 28 October in the UK. The meeting will discuss how to strengthen social justice and competitiveness within the European Union. It will also explore how to make common foreign and security policy, European security and defence policy, and justice and home affairs policies more responsive to citizens' concerns. As the meeting is an informal one, it is not intended that it will adopt formal conclusions. At the meeting, I will stress the continued importance of the European Union to our common development and emphasise the need for the EU collectively to deal with the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, particularly the competitive challenge from China and India.
With regard to foreign visits, over the course of this Dáil session I will visit Budapest for a bilateral meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister on 25 November. I will also travel to the European Council in Brussels on 15 and 16 December.
I met the French Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna on 12 September. The meeting was a friendly one in which we discussed future enlargement of the EU, the financial perspectives and bilateral political and economic relations. We both agreed that the financial perspectives for the Union should be agreed at the earliest possible opportunity.
With regard to one of Deputy Kenny's questions, since the last questions on this issue I have had no other formal bilateral contacts with other EU Heads of State or Government regarding the European constitution or Europe in general.
I travelled to New York on 13 September. The centrepiece of this visit was the UN summit. I attended the 60th High Level Plenary meeting of the United Nations on 14 September. The meeting was attended by over 170 heads of state or government. The UN summit was convened to consider far reaching proposals for the reform of the United Nations promoted by the UN Secretary General. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in his capacity as a UN envoy appointed by the UN Secretary General, actively assisted in the preparations for, and the success of, the summit.
The summit adopted an outcome document which, while falling short of the high expectations of the UN Secretary General, represents a substantial step forward in UN reform. The document includes a substantive agenda for change in the UN and will now be taken forward in discussions at the UN General Assembly. Among the many positive elements in the summit's outcome document were agreement to establish a UN peace building commission and a new UN human rights council; a formal statement of the international community's responsibility to protect populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including through military means where necessary, through the Security Council; and a re-affirmation of the UN's millennium development goals.
I share the regret of the UN Secretary General that the summit was unable to agree a strong statement on disarmament and non-proliferation. We will continue to work hard to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at a time when the international non-proliferation regime is under serious strain.
In my address to the summit, I indicated that Ireland would reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for official development assistance by 2012, three years earlier than the agreed EU target date of 2015. I also indicated that we would reach an interim target of 0.5% of GNP by the end of 2007. This interim target means we will increase ODA by €228 million in 2005 and 2006 to reach a total of €773 million by the end of 2007. I emphasised that we will remain one of the few donors to have a completely untied aid programme. Since it came into office, the Government has tripled ODA to a total of €545 million in 2005. The new ODA commitment means we will triple ODA again over the years 2005-12. On current growth projections, expenditure on ODA over these years could amount to €8 billion.
These new resources will enable Development Co-operation Ireland to undertake new activities. At the UN, I announced we will double spending on the fight against HIV-AIDS to €100 million per year by the end of next year, strengthen our national capacity to respond to major humanitarian emergencies with a particular focus on dealing with famine and food shortages, contribute to the new UN democracy fund that will support the spread of democratic values around the world and work closely with the Irish private sector in promoting investment, trade and technology transfer with partner companies in Africa.
In addition to addressing the summit, I also addressed a round table of heads of state or government chaired by the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. John Howard. I also attended a breakfast for heads of state or government hosted by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. I had bilateral meetings with Mr. Peter Piot, the director of UNAIDS, the UN agency responsible for co-ordinating the international fight against HIV-AIDS, and with Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, the new President of the World Bank. Issues discussed at these meetings included UN reform, the G8 initiative on debt cancellation, HIV-AIDS and ODA.
While in New York, I attended the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative and had a bilateral meeting with former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton. This new initiative is focused on four issues — poverty, religion, conflict and reconciliation, climate change and governance. Ireland is working closely with the Clinton Foundation in supplying life saving drugs to poor people infected with HIV-AIDS in Mozambique. In my meeting with former President Clinton, we discussed the peace process in Northern Ireland and the co-operation between Ireland and the Clinton Foundation.
In my discussions with President Bush, I again expressed my sympathy for the people devastated by hurricane Katrina. I had already written to President Bush in this regard in August.
While in New York, I attended business events hosted by Enterprise Ireland to highlight the successes of Irish companies in the US and the strong trading relationship between Ireland and the US. I was particularly pleased to meet with seven Enterprise Ireland clients who were announcing new deals and partnerships. I also addressed a luncheon which was attended by over 120 business executives from the New York region, including Irish companies operating in the area.
On 15 September, I was delighted to attend a ceremony, along with the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to re-dedicate a plaque at the birthplace of Eamon de Valera, located on Lexington Avenue and 51st Street. I was invited by the New York Stock Exchange, in conjunction with the American Ireland Fund, to ring the closing bell of the Stock Exchange and to attend a function of those who work in the exchange with the American Ireland Fund. I had an opportunity to meet many listed Irish companies on the floor. I addressed a reception hosted by the American Ireland Fund following the closing. In the evening, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by All Hallows College.
I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply on his activities during the summer. Obviously he was not idle. I have three questions. At the UN summit in New York the Taoiseach set 2012 as the new deadline for the achievement of the UN target for overseas aid. However, a guarantee was only given for the next two years, which puts the Government beyond the next election and on this side of the House. The date given is a few years later than 2010 which was recommended by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. What assurance do we have that this commitment will be honoured? Is the Taoiseach satisfied the structure exists to have the capacity to deliver the extent of aid being proposed? There appear to be difficulties with the transfer of personnel from the relevant section in the Department. Is the Taoiseach sure he will get the best result from the Irish contribution in this regard?
During the UN summit an agreement was signed by 191 members which stated they recognise that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. We have paid much lip service to this and it is important. The UN has supported the formation of EU battlegroups to deal with crises on the Continent and around the world. In Rwanda and the Balkans we saw the appalling consequences of the international community standing idly by in the face of war crimes and genocide. What is the position with Ireland's participation in EU battlegroups? The Taoiseach has twice rejected legislation on this from the Fine Gael Party. Will the Taoiseach introduce legislation and, if so, when?
When the Taoiseach met with the President of Serbia and Montenegro, did he discuss with him the possibility of EU membership for that country?
With regard to overseas development aid, we have tripled the amount of aid. What this country has done is enormously appreciated by all sectors. I am aware the NGOs in this country continue to press for further funding but groups such as the World Bank and UNAIDS appreciate what this country has contributed. It is untied aid. Some argue that a few other countries contribute untied aid but this country has always done so. The resources we are providing, and we have already put the figure into the multiannual figures for this and next year, will bring us up to 0.5% of GDP which is an enormous sum. I was not prepared to set the date of 2010 because, frankly, I did not believe we could reach that figure. The Government and the Department of Finance believe we can do it by the end of 2012. It is a considerable effort by the country. We will soon be contributing €750 million. It is a huge contribution.
The Deputy is correct. We are examining how we will use those resources to the best advantage. We are examining new initiatives. The Department is, and has, strengthened its capacity because of the size of the resources. From the country's point of view we must ensure we are not just giving large wads of money to international agencies with no control over it. It is better to be engaged, particularly with Irish NGOs, religious and lay, which are working in the field. As the figures continue to grow they will, hopefully, reach approximately €1.5 billion by 2012 and there will be a serious section in the Department to deal with them. It was adequate a few years ago when it was dealing with €100 million and less. However, €750 million is an enormous amount of resources to be dealt with and there are already arguments about some of the people who are dealing with it.
Serbia and Montenegro are concerned, because of the difficulties with Turkey, the ongoing issues regarding Croatia and even the difficulties regarding Bulgaria and Romania, that the enlargement issue and the Thessaloniki decision under the Greek Presidency of 2003 will be put on the back burner and that the initiatives will not continue. That was discussed at the European Council and there was an assurance that Europe will continue to engage with the country. It is Serbia and Montenegro's intention, and it has been for a number of years, to become a member of the EU. However, the first concern for Montenegro is that the stabilisation agreement is put in place. We were able to give an assurance that this is progressing. They see their future in Europe and that is how they are progressing.
An interdepartmental group is working on the issue of battle groups. Mr. Kofi Annan is extremely anxious that we participate and I would like to see Ireland contribute but we must ensure participation is entirely compatible with our laws and Constitution. The basis on which we can do so is being examined. Mr. Annan has much respect for this country and has emphasised to me that he would like to see us play a role. It is hoped the interdepartmental group will report before Christmas.
Notwithstanding that, is it the case that we casually disowned the pledge the Taoiseach made at the United Nations? Many people are asking questions on the validity of the latest pledge to 2012. What is the Taoiseach's attitude to the Labour Party's Bill that sought to ringfence our contribution to ODA so that in good times or bad we would adhere to this moral contribution to the world's poor?
Last year when the Taoiseach got into trouble after the local elections he sent for Fr. Seán Healy. Clearly clerical inflation has been such since then that this time he went to Rome to meet the new Pope. Did the Taoiseach receive any commitment from the Pope that he would visit here and if so is it likely to be before polling day? What is the church-State dialogue he announced? What does it comprise? Who is involved and what has happened since he made that historic announcement? What meetings have taken place? What is the subject matter of this dialogue? Is it the economy, war and peace or poverty? What is envisaged by this exchange?
Will Mr. Paisley be involved?
One never knows.
An interesting fact about ODA is that in bad times one gets there quicker. That is what happened in recent years when the economy grew by 10% and 12%.
We are too rich.
That is a hard line to sell.
It is not. All of the groups who deal with ODA understand that well. They understand matters of hard cash and that this country has moved from an amount of approximately €100 million not that many years ago to a firm commitment of €750 million.
Compare this Government's record to that of Governments in which the Labour Party participated.
I do not agree with having a legislative base. If we travel down that road a future Government or Governments or this House will be nailed down to figures in many areas. I assure the House that alongside the figure of 0.7 are other groups with other figures and they would want a similar commitment. Governments should honour it as best they can. I was disappointed we could not achieve what we wanted. I stated that openly. I was pressed hard to make a commitment for 2010 but I did not believe it was feasible. We can do it by 2012 but it is not easy. We trebled it over five or six years and we must treble it again. That is a significant contribution.
We did not treble the percentage.
We trebled it in seven years.
It went from €147 million to €775 million.
That is not a percentage.
Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption. We do not have much time left for questions and I wish to facilitate the Deputies who submitted questions.
On church-State dialogue, in the context of the constitution for Europe, Christian churches and non-confessional groups on a European basis requested meaningful and open dialogue. It is considered that the French and some other countries do it well. It involves all of the churches within a State in open meetings without any being in a special position. Churches across religions and non-religious groups have collectively put this forward to Governments throughout Europe.
We made all of the churches and non-confessional groups aware of our proposals and took account of what they stated in response. Following that I will make a statement shortly. I hope we will then start meetings with them. The idea is to have an open agenda within which issues of interest can be raised. It has been widely welcomed. In a short period we have moved from having six or seven groups to 25 or 26 groups. They require some type of formal dialogue with Government such as has worked well in other countries.
Is the Pope coming?
From my discussions with this Pontiff I would state he will not make too many trips.
In his meeting with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, did the Taoiseach discuss the EU services directive and is he aware of the great concern among trade unionists and public service workers across the European Union, not least the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, at the serious implications of the directive for State sponsored and State provided services? Does the Taoiseach agree the services directive in its present form would allow private companies to undercut public service providers by employing people at the rates and terms of employment which apply in their countries of origin? Does the Taoiseach agree clearly this could lead to massive redundancies in public sector employment across Ireland? It would also create a new underclass of migrant worker.
It would be better to submit a detailed question of this nature to the appropriate Minister.
It arises from the Taoiseach's meeting with Mr. Barroso. With respect, it is no more detailed than any of the other questions put to him so far. Does the Taoiseach accept that from the perspective of migrant workers if this were to happen our legislation would not protect them while they were employed here? Does the Taoiseach agree with the ICTU, which stressed during a recent presentation in Brussels to Irish MEPs, including my colleague Ms Bairbre de Brún, that the services directive in its present form is a serious threat to collective agreements and the European social model and would undermine national control over core public services? Has the Taoiseach asked, or will he ask Mr. Barroso to dispense with the services directive?
I ask Deputy Sargent and Deputy Higgins to submit brief questions which will be followed by a final reply from the Taoiseach.
In that case I will not ask all of my questions but will ask two basic ones. With regard to his attendance at the Clinton Global Initiative conference, I know the Taoiseach sympathised with the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In discussing climate change did the Taoiseach advocate any ways of dealing with the problem or did he merely listen and take it all in? What is the Government's advocacy in that area and what did the Taoiseach state to former US President, Mr. Clinton, and others?
Last Monday an article in the Financial Times quoted the Taoiseach on the European constitution as stating that following the defeat of the European Union’s proposed constitution in the French and Dutch referendums a new debate had begun. To ensure there is no ambiguity on the matter, will the Taoiseach clarify whether that is an acknowledgement that the European treaty has been defeated? Also, will he indicate whether he has responded to the visit by the French Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna, who indicated the French Government is unlikely to propose a second referendum on the constitutional treaty? If we are talking about the European constitution not going further, can the Taoiseach deduce from that that it is no longer an issue?
Considering that the President of the EU Commission, Mr. Barroso, said it would be three years before one could think about the proposed European constitution being ratified and assuming this Government lasts for another 18 months, would the Taoiseach now rule out the holding of a referendum in this State before that time in light of the rejection by the French and Dutch working classes?
Did the Taoiseach have discussions in New York with any representatives of the United States Administration? In view of the unmitigated disaster and the cataclysmic situation caused by the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain, did anybody from the Administration express regret to the Taoiseach for having misled him about the cause of the invasion, namely, alleged weapons of mass destruction? Does the Taoiseach regret having supported the invasion with facilities in Shannon? What is the justification for continuing to support the occupation by providing facilities at Shannon on an ongoing basis?
On Deputy Ó Caoláin's question about the services directive, it was withdrawn in its current form. There is not a draft directive. It has gone back for reworking to take account of many issues, including some raised by the Deputy. President Barroso said reformulation of the directive would allow people to consult, and that is what is happening. The meeting with ICTU and many other bodies is to ensure an input into that. We have to wait to see what comes back from the Commission before we can have any meaningful discussion. At that meeting many months ago we supported the view that the directive should not proceed in its current form. I was one of the strong supporters of President Chirac's initiative at that meeting.
The Clinton Foundation conference discussed four topics. I participated in the session on Shimon Peres and the Palestinian question. There were other sessions and therefore we were not discussing any of those issues. I read some of the data on climate change and other issues afterwards but I was not involved in that. To the best of my knowledge they did not have a session on climate change. What I was doing on behalf of the country was commiserating, including in writing when I had the opportunity, with President Bush on the loss to the country.
On the EU constitution, the position is that the European Council decided that for the next year we would have a debate and reflection in all countries on the objectives of the European constitution and the tasks facing us. We will return to that in the Austrian Presidency. What will happen then will be a matter for that Presidency. That debate is now opened and a number of initiatives have been put forward already. The Jesuits had a major conference in Dublin earlier this week which was attended by the former Commissioner, Peter Sutherland, and many other eminent people, including from the Forum on Europe. Maurice Hayes and others participated in that session also. These are the kind of debates we hope will continue. For its part, the Government will do as much as it can to ensure the people are empowered with the information, knowledge and understanding of what the European project is about. The next decisions will be made by the Austrian Presidency.