Other Questions

Overseas Development Aid

Brendan Smith

Question:

6. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will consider reviewing the allocation of Irish aid to countries which have oppressive anti-homosexual legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23173/14]

The Ugandan President signed a law last February that imposes very tough and unacceptable penalties on homosexual acts. This legislation threatens to usher in an era of very harsh treatment of offenders and could lead to widespread oppression of gay men and lesbians, which should be totally unacceptable to the international community. The denial of basic human rights is not tolerable. Has the Minister conveyed our concerns to the Ugandan authorities in respect of this very repressive legislation?

Through the Government’s development co-operation programme, Ireland is committed to providing long-term strategic assistance to nine key partner countries, eight of them in Africa. Good governance and human rights are key elements of our development programme. In addition to providing assistance to organisations promoting human rights, our embassies in our key partner countries work directly, and in co-operation with other EU member states, to engage with Governments on a range of governance and human rights issues, including the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, people.

In responding to serious human rights situations, including oppressive legislation, our focus is on targeted actions that do not penalise the most vulnerable in society. We deliver aid through a range of instruments and channels to support poverty reduction, and we target our assistance to achieve progress on human rights. We also ensure that the human rights of LGBTI people are kept on the international agenda. Ireland provided substantial input to the EU guidelines on LGBTI issues during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013. The Tánaiste pledged our full support to the efforts of the UN Secretary General to lead a global campaign for LGBTI rights when he addressed the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2013. In my address to the Human Rights Council in March this year, I highlighted Ireland’s grave concerns at the enactment of repressive legislation in a number of countries affecting the rights of LGBTI individuals.

We will continue to work internationally and in our partner countries to promote human rights, including the rights of LGBTI people, and to support human rights organisations and institutions.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am glad he has conveyed our concerns to the Ugandan authorities in respect of this very oppressive legislation. Will he ensure that at political and official level every opportunity is taken to continue to highlight to the Ugandan authorities the unacceptable nature of this legislation and the measures contained therein? Does the Minister of State envisage a need to review the appropriation of aid from the Irish taxpayer and include the protection of human rights as part of it? Is he aware of any other countries that receive assistance from our overseas development aid programme where there is oppressive legislation in respect of homosexual acts?

President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which the Ugandan Parliament passed earlier this year, into law. Shortly afterwards, a group of Ugandan citizens launched a constitutional challenge to the legislation. The Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law has issued guidelines on the international response cautioning against linking cuts in ODA to the enactment of the Bill for fear of any backlash against the LGBTI community and the potential impact on the poorest Ugandans.

That is the situation now, but prior to the signing of this repressive legislation into law Ireland had cut off its development links on a bilateral basis with the Ugandan Government due to the fraud that had been perpetrated earlier in respect of €4 million in ODA, all of which was recouped. We do not engage with the Ugandan Government but we continue to provide aid. We have been asked by the civil society organisation, some of whose members I met last autumn, not to cut off our aid to Uganda. They said it would be counterproductive and detrimental to the poor people who receive Irish Aid, and that it would possibly result in a backlash, meaning that human rights would suffer.

Other countries have moved to cut their aid but Ireland has decided to go with the wishes of Ugandan civil society.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Has he had the opportunity to discuss with other donor states the reasoning for their cutting off aid? Were they not conscious, as the Minister of State seems to be, of the message from civil society in Uganda? Is the Minister of State confident that the civil society representatives whom he meets are representative of society in general and that this is not a one-sided civil society representation? Is he confident that it is a genuine civil society representative view which is given to the Minister of State and his officials?

Yes, I am confident. I met a host of civil society organisations, including LGBTI representatives, when I visited Uganda. While I said that other countries had cut off aid, they have not cut off aid entirely. They have made cuts in their aid or they have suspended elements of it. This is the case for Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Ireland has not done so and has continued to provide aid. In our view we have taken the right path because Uganda is a very poor society to which Ireland has contributed significantly. I refer to our aid to education in the Karamoja area in the north of Uganda, which is exceedingly poor. We bypassed the government when making that contribution and it has been made to the poorest of the poor. We have also aided other projects.

On my invitation, the Auditor General of Uganda will visit Ireland. He will address the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and will make a number of public statements. There will be an opportunity to hear from him as the officeholder who was funded. The only funding given to any agency of the Ugandan Government is given to bolster and boost the office of the Auditor General to ensure that he can continue the good work. It was this office which discovered the fraud and brought it to the Prime Minister's office. It is a strong, independent office, and we will be able to hear for ourselves the views of that officeholder.

As Deputy Broughan is not present, Question No. 7 will not be taken.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Foreign Conflicts

Seán Crowe

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the imposition of martial law in Thailand and the fact that army soldiers have occupied government buildings in the country, which has a history of military coups and dictatorships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23184/14]

I was asked to raise this question to draw to the Minister's attention the situation following the military coup in Thailand. Many Thai people live in Ireland and many Irish people travel on holiday to Thailand and also live there. The country has a history of military interventions. Soldiers yesterday detained a prominent minister of the ousted government who had emerged from hiding to criticise the coup. The army has occupied many government buildings. My question may give the House an opportunity to comment on the situation in Thailand.

I am deeply concerned about current developments in Thailand and my Department is monitoring the situation very closely. Following months of pro- and anti-government protests, on 22 May the Royal Thai Army announced that it was taking control of the government and suspending the constitution, having imposed martial law across Thailand two days previously. The acting Prime Minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, and his ministers were ordered to report to a military compound north of Bangkok, and political gatherings of more than five people have been banned. I call on the military to accept and respect the constitutional authority of the civilian power as a basic principle of democratic governance. It is of the utmost importance that Thailand returns rapidly to the legitimate democratic process and holds credible and inclusive elections as soon as feasible.

The Irish embassy in Kuala Lumpur, which has responsibility for Thailand, is in close contact with Ireland’s honorary consulates in Bangkok and Phuket, which remain open and functioning. Irish citizens in Thailand or those thinking of travelling to Thailand should check the travel advice on my Department’s website, which is updated as necessary. Any Irish citizens in Thailand should exercise extreme caution, monitor developments through the media and social media and follow the instructions of the authorities. Irish citizens should take extra care to avoid any demonstrations, protests or security operations and should note that the army has announced a nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

I welcome the Tánaiste's expression of concern and in particular his concern for Irish people in Thailand. There is a long history of interventions by the military in that country. Since 1932 there have been 12 military coups and seven unsuccessful coups. I commend the Minister's proactive approach to the security of Irish citizens in Thailand. Is the Department providing information to citizens on actions to be taken if the situation worsens? I presume there is an EU mission presence in Thailand, which may be the first point of contact for Irish citizens. More than 100 people have been arrested, including dissenting politicians and journalists. What can Ireland do? Will the Minister raise the issue in international forums?

Approximately 65,000 Irish citizens visit Thailand each year, as it is quite a popular holiday destination. It has been arranged that any Irish person in Thailand or anyone thinking of travelling to Thailand should check the travel advice on my Department's website, which is updated regularly. Thailand is currently serviced from our embassy in Kuala Lumpur and by honorary consulates in Bangkok and Phuket. Information about the honorary consulates is available on the Department's website. These are the recommended points of contact for those who may be in difficulty.

In January 2014 the Government decided to open a new embassy in Bangkok. We are continuing with the arrangements to open the embassy and Mr. Brendan Rogers has been appointed as ambassador. Notwithstanding the developments in Thailand, we intend to continue with the arrangements to open the embassy. Until the embassy is opened, people should seek information from the website, from the honorary consulates and, if necessary, from the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

We need to be very proactive in our response to this situation. I am concerned about the message that the decision to open the embassy may give. There is a need for Ireland to support the democratic institutions in Thailand. I agree that arrangements for the opening of the embassy should go ahead, but we should send a strong message to the Thai authorities that if the situation in the country continues, Ireland will review its relationship with that country.

There are two dimensions to be considered, one of which is the interests of Irish citizens who are in Thailand or who intend to visit it. Because of the numbers involved, it is important to have a presence on the ground in Bangkok. For this reason we intend to continue with the arrangements to open the embassy. Second, we are clear in our view of the military takeover that we want a restoration of democracy and the holding of elections. The European Union has issued a clear statement, which we support. We will continue to co-ordinate policy with the European Union. We want to see a restoration of democracy in Thailand and we will work to that end. However, we must look to the needs of our own citizens, many of whom visit Thailand.

It may slow down a little because of the military takeover and the imposition of the curfew, but 65,000 Irish people visit Thailand every year and quite a number of Irish citizens do business there. In the circumstances, it is important that we have a physical presence on the ground, which is why we intend to continue with the arrangements for the opening of the embassy.

Workplace Safety

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

9. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise at European level the International Labour Organization's Decent Work campaign and Turkey's refusal to sign the ILO convention, in view of the recent mining accident which saw the deaths of 301 persons and in view of the fact that many are still unaccounted for; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that mining accidents account for 10% of workplace accidents in Turkey, which is higher than death rates for miners in China; if he will address at European level the questionable privatisation policies of resource industries in Turkey and the shortfall in investment in maintaining work safety in privatised mines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23177/14]

My question relates to the most recent mining accident in Turkey which was the latest in a series of mining accidents in the country; the nature of the engagement of the Government; and whether there will be engagement on its part at the International Labour Organization conference in June.

The Soma mining disaster which claimed 301 lives was the worst mining accident in Turkish history. The Tánaiste has written to the Turkish Government to convey our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy.

Health and safety standards in Turkey's mines are an issue which the European Union has consistently raised with the Turkish authorities. Ireland joined a number of other member states in requesting that the issue be raised once again at the forthcoming meeting of the EU-Turkey association committee, which is scheduled to take place on 3 June in Brussels. At this meeting the European Union will stress the need for Turkey to make progress in meeting EU standards and the standards of the International Labour Organization, ILO. The Union will stress that progress on this issue remains essential in the interests of Turkish workers and society.

Since 2002 the European Union has allocated €21 million to support the improvement of occupational health and safety standards in Turkey. This funding has been used, for example, to support the work of health and safety inspectors, provide training for them and set up laboratories for testing workplace standards. The European Union has focused, in particular, on standards in the mining sector, providing training and expertise for occupational health and safety inspectors.

Ireland remains a supporter of Turkey's EU accession process through which the European Union assists Turkey in meeting EU standards and laws in preparation for eventual membership. During our EU Presidency last year we succeeded in securing agreement on the opening of a new chapter in the negotiations. This was the first chapter to be opened in three years.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

We hope this momentum can be maintained and that new chapters opened for negotiation in the future. In particular, we hope we can open negotiations on the issues of health and safety standards, which would be dealt with through chapter 19 on social policy and employment. At the association committee's meeting on 3 June the European Union will once again call on Turkey to take the necessary steps in order that we can start negotiations on these important questions.

There have been quite a number of serious mining accidents in Turkey. Since 1983 there have been 600 accidents. In the past 73 years there have been over 3,000. Everybody is entitled to safe working conditions and anyone going out to work should have an expectation that he or she will go home that night, but Turkey's record has been appalling. There are many positives in the Minister of State's answer, but much will hinge on the ILO conference in June. I hope our Government representatives will press the Turkish Government to ratify the ILO convention and implement it within its national legislation. This is part of the larger issue of decent working conditions. We saw the appalling accident in Bangladesh, while peasant farmers growing food on their land are under threat from multinational companies and mining organisations. This is all part of the bigger picture. Workers' rights need to be recognised.

I agree entirely with the point made by the Deputy that anybody going to work should have the expectation that he or she will return home safely at the end of the day. I emphasise three points in response to her further question. One of the main items for negotiation in respect of Turkey's accession is chapter 19 which covers issues such as employment law and social policy. I emphasise that in the past few years well over €20 million has been spent and invested by the European Union in dealing with the issue of safety in the workplace and making sure people are properly trained and that the monitoring mechanisms in place are robust. I note the point made by the Deputy on the need for the standards laid down by the ILO to be met. We will emphasise this point at the EU-Turkey meeting that will take place in Brussels in June.

In June 2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the guiding principles on business and human rights, implementing the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy framework for business and human rights which was prepared by the UN special representative, Mr. John Ruggie. Ireland must be more proactive in respect of these principles and I hope this will be part of the continuing response from the Minister of State.

Again, I point to the fact that Ireland has been proactive in this area in the recent past. Chapter 19 which forms part of the accession process for Turkey and in which Ireland played a leading role through the Tánaiste during its EU Presidency refers employment law and social policy. As a member state, we have raised this issue and will raise it again at the meeting that will take place in June.

Overseas Development Aid Oversight

Seán Kyne

Question:

10. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if, following the misappropriation of Irish Aid funds through corrupt means involving the Government of Uganda, he will outline the improvements and strengthening of safeguards to ensure Irish Aid funds reach the intended persons who are most in need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23218/14]

I wish to ask the Minister of State about the improvements made and the safeguards put in place in the use of Irish funds abroad, particularly following the misappropriation discovered in Uganda in November 2012.

In October 2012 we suspended over €16 million of Ireland's development assistance to Uganda following the discovery of fraud in the Office of the Prime Minister. In response to our strong action the Government of Uganda has since refunded in full the €4 million of Irish Aid funds which were misappropriated. A full report on the fraud by the evaluation and audit unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been completed. The report concludes that adequate steps were taken to recover the funds involved and strengthen our own systems and redirect our aid through non-government channels. In addition, reviews of the internal controls and risk management systems in all Irish Aid partner countries, including Uganda, have been completed by the evaluation and audit unit. The recommendations made in these reviews are being implemented as a matter of priority.

The Irish Aid programme has a strong focus on development results. All of our programmes are robustly appraised. All partners, including NGO partners, are monitored regularly, with periodic field visits to ensure results are being achieved and that we are getting good value for money from our support. I am satisfied that our strong oversight of the aid programme ensures the valuable support provided by Ireland is reaching the intended targets and making a real contribution to improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. I can confirm that independent evaluations have consistently confirmed this and that it remains an absolute priority to ensure Irish Aid continues to operate to the highest standards of accountability.

I know that the Minister of State shares the view that taxpayer's money must be spent on and used to deal with the neediest cases. It took a considerable period - up to February this year - for the report to be published. I wonder about this delay and whether there are similar reports on other countries in which Irish Aid moneys are being spent. I also have serious concerns about abuses in countries such as Uganda, including those relating to the LGBT community and the abuse of women and other minorities in certain other countries. We need to know that money is not being used to fund governments and regimes that engage in these abuses. Has any consideration been given to carrying out a review of the position in these countries?

All of that has happened. The evaluation and audit unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not only conducted an evaluation and examination of the position in Uganda but has also looked at the position in our other partner countries, eight of the nine of which are in Africa, while the ninth is Vietnam. As a result of the fraud uncovered, we have taken a very deliberate step to avoid engagement with the Ugandan Government. Part of the funding goes directly through the Irish Embassy to the various projects in Uganda in which we are engaged.

We are engaged very much in addressing education, HIV-Aids, gender-based violence, governance and livelihood projects. The funding goes to the poorest areas in the country either directly through the Irish Embassy in Uganda or through a number of trusted NGOs. Our NGOs are carefully monitored and evaluated. An NGO that receives more than €100,000 in funding from the Government must provide an annual report and give a clear account through a memorandum of understanding, which it has signed with Irish Aid in advance. There has to be transparency and accountability about the use of the money. Salaries in excess of €70,000 must be made public. That could be a good model of behaviour for all charitable organisations regarding how to deal in a transparent and accountable way with the salaries they give to their senior staff.

I welcome the change to providing the aid directly through the embassy or the NGOs in Uganda to the people. Is there a similar policy for the other partner countries in Africa?

We deal with the situation as we see it on the ground. Under the OECD guidelines, the most desirable way to ensure partnership engagement between the donor country and the partner country is for the governments to engage. Where the partner government has a budget to deal with health, education and so on, that becomes part and parcel of the prioritisation donor countries engage in to ensure the optimum outcome from the funding that is made available. Where there is a suspicion of fraud or corruption, that is bypassed. That is done on a country by country basis and Uganda is one example of that.

The issue of human rights and LGBTI comes up and we have a strong position on those matters. As well as ensuring we would not engage directly with the government in Uganda as a result of the fraud, the fact that it introduced repressive legislation confirmed our position. At the same time, we got a clear message from civil society and the NGO community that we should not refrain from providing aid to the poorest people there because the government might not be trustworthy. Nevertheless, the people do not deserve to be penalised because of the faults of the government. We have continued to ensure aid goes directly to the people who are most in need.

Overseas Development Aid Expenditure

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

11. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in view of the conclusions in the 2014 annual report to the European Council on EU development aid targets at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 19 May 2014, his views on another significant shortfall in the EU's collective overseas development aid, ODA, which, despite an increase from €55.3 billion in 2012 to €56.5 billion in 2013, remains at 0.43% of EU GNI; his views on the way Ireland will contribute to the EU's goal of 0.7% of GNI by 2015; the preparation the Government is making in advance of a possible failure to meet the 2015 goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23178/14]

My question relates to the shortfall in the EU's overseas development aid budget and what can be done about it.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council meeting of development Ministers in Brussels on 19 May. The Council adopted conclusions on the 2014 annual report to the European Council on the EU’s development aid targets. The Council conclusions note that, despite continuing serious budgetary pressures, the EU’s collective official development assistance - from member states and the EU institutions combined - increased from €55.3 billion in 2012 to €56.5 billion in 2013. This amounted to 0.43% of EU GNI. It must be recalled that this has been done against a difficult economic background in member states but, nevertheless, the EU remains by far the largest donor of development assistance in the world. It accounts for more than half of global ODA to developing countries.

Since coming into office, the Government has demonstrated its commitment to Ireland’s aid programme and to stabilising the ODA budget to the maximum extent. In the three years 2011, 2012 and 2013, more than €1.9 billion has been provided for ODA. This is an enormous achievement in the circumstances. The Government has again managed to allocate almost €600 million to ODA in 2014. Our new policy for international development, One World One Future, makes it clear that the Government remains committed to the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNI in ODA. Having broadly stabilised the budget in recent years, we are committed to making further progress towards achieving the target as soon as economic circumstances permit.

I refer to the Council's conclusions and annual report while acknowledging the Minister of State's comment that, despite the continuing budgetary constraints, the EU's collective ODA provision increased to €56.5 billion. However, it remained at 0.43% of EU GNI. There was a slight increase in total ODA provided by individual member states but, in percentage terms, it equated to 0.41% of GNI. The annual report states:

Development co-operation remains a key priority for the EU, which has formally undertaken to collectively commit 0.7% of GNI to official development assistance by 2015, thus making a decisive step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The EU and its Member States reaffirm all their individual and collective ODA commitments taking into account the exceptional budgetary circumstances.

There is a big difference between 0.41% and 0.7%. How will we get to the target?

The latest figures show that four countries - Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the UK - have met the 0.7% GNI target. The UK did so just this year. Ireland's ODA level stood at 0.45% of GNI in 2013, which placed us joint seventh in the EU table. This is against a background of being in the troika programme and in an economic crisis over the past five or six years. Overall, the EU maintained progress in delivering on its pledges, although the position varies greatly from member state to member state. For example, 16 member states increased their aid by a total of €4.1 billion while 12 decreased their aid by a total of €1.2 billion. Ireland was the only programme country that increased its aid, despite the difficult circumstances we are in. We must view the figures against that backdrop. We have made a commitment to reach the 0.7% GNI target as economic circumstances allow us to do. That remains our commitment and we will deliver on that.

Foreign Conflicts

Seán Crowe

Question:

12. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the deteriorating situation in Libya after armed militants stormed the country's interim parliament with the country sliding towards an all out civil war; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23186/14]

Conflicts have dominated his morning's proceedings. Will the Minister of State make a statement on the intervention in Libya where armed militants have taken over the parliament?

I am extremely concerned regarding recent events in Libya where the situation remains highly precarious. The security environment has further deteriorated in recent days after renegade Army General Haftar sent his paramilitary force, the "Libyan National Army", to attack the parliament building on 18 May. According to reports received, militia members used anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and light arms in some of the heaviest clashes in months in the capital, killing two people and wounding 60.

General Haftar, who quit as head of Colonel Gaddafi’s army and took charge of rebel forces during the 2011 uprising, has vowed to rid Libya of Islamist politicians whom he claims have allowed extremist militias to take control of the country. He has called publicly on the government to hand over power to the country’s highest judicial council "to form a civilian presidential high council tasked with forming an emergency cabinet and organising legislative elections". General Haftar’s forces also launched an extensive air and ground operation against Islamist militias in the coastal city of Benghazi on 16 and 17 May, reportedly killing 70 people.

The acting Libyan Prime Minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, has declared that General Haftar is attempting to lead a coup against the government. I strongly condemn the actions of all militias in Libya, including General Haftar’s forces, which are seeking to undermine the legitimate political process and the aspirations of the vast majority of the Libyan people for a peaceful democratic transition.

I join Libya’s interim government in calling on all sides to return urgently to dialogue and reconciliation as a means of restoring stability.

The difficulty is that there is no government operating in Libya. There is a collection of armed groups and this is another strong man emerging. We have seen this happen on many occasions. Earlier we discussed the coup in Thailand. Are there Irish citizens living in Libya and is there concern about them? A number of Libyan people were living in Ireland, some of whom returned to Libya after the fall of the Gadaffi regime. Does the Minister of State have any information on this? What should Ireland do about the situation? Do we step back and let them at it? What happens next?

I am not in a position to state the exact number of Irish citizens in Libya, but I assure the Deputy that through our embassy in Rome which is accredited to Libya we are providing advice for anybody who is considering travelling to Libya and that we will monitor and offer support to Irish citizens who are in the country or the region.

With regard to the response to the grave difficulty in Libya, much of it is being co-ordinated through the European Union. On the first level, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who co-ordinates and leads much of the European Union's foreign policy in these areas has appointed a new special envoy to Libya, Bernardino León, whose role will be to co-ordinate the work of the European Union in that area and offer any support possible, with a particular focus on what can be done in the area of public administration and governance.

The second area of work by the European Union involves what is described as the European Union Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission in Libya which was established in May 2013. Its role is to support and develop the capacity and ability of the Libyan authorities to monitor their borders and make them secure and in the long term to develop broader policy and concepts in that regard. The mission has a temporary location in Malta and will put in place a secure compound and facility within Libya to deal with work in that area.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.