I move the following Revised Estimates:
Vote 27 — International Co-operation (Revised)
That a sum not exceeding €549,702,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020,for certain Official Development Assistance,including certain grants, and for contributions to certain International Organisations involved in Development Assistance and for salaries and expenses in connection therewith.
Vote 28 — Foreign Affairs and Trade (Revised)
That a sum not exceeding €225,860,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020,for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade,and for certain services administered by that Office, including grants and contributions to International Organisations.
The first thing I would like to do, before addressing the Revised Estimates, is to thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Helen McEntee, and former Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, for the work that they did in their briefs within my Department for the past number of years. Deputy McEntee made an extraordinary contribution to European affairs, positioning Ireland in a safe space in the context of the Brexit challenges that we faced and working to build solidarity across the European Union. Deputy Cannon did extraordinary work with our diaspora and contributed to an ambitious development of our development assistance programmes. Both Deputies will be missed in the Department.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, to his new portfolio. He will do an excellent job. I also welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid and diaspora, Deputy Colm Brophy. There is a considerable amount of work to do in that area and I will refer to some of that in my contribution. I am delighted to have both those Ministers of State working with me in the Department.
I am seeking the House's approval for the Revised Estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Vote 28, and international co-operation, Vote 27. The Department's spending in 2020 is allocated across six expenditure programmes which correspond to the high-level goals set out in the Department's statement of strategy 2017-20. Five of these programmes are managed through Vote 28, the expenditure framework for foreign affairs and trade, and the remaining programme is managed through Vote 27, the framework for international co-operation.
For 2020, the overall gross Estimates of the foreign affairs and trade group of votes, Vote 27 and Vote 28, is €821 million, compared with €802 million in 2019, an overall increase of €18.9 million or 2.4%. I will focus first on Vote 27, international co-operation.
Our forefathers said that we live in each other's shadows. That truth has been brought home in recent months as we have learned to live and cope with the shadow cast by Covid-19. The virus has reminded us of our interconnectedness with others, both at home and abroad. In communities across Ireland, we have seen acts of neighbourly generosity that have helped to keep us all safe. In our global community, our actions help protect and mind each other through the health crisis and the associated economic and social strains that have followed. We know that unless we do this, there will be a recurrence of Covid-19. Unless and until the disease has been suppressed, or even better eradicated, not just at home or abroad, the risk will be sustained.
Ireland's well-regarded official international development programme is the vehicle for much of our international response to Covid-19. This is a whole-of-Government effort. Almost €838 million has been allocated, an increase of €21 million to the 2019 allocation. It is the sixth consecutive year of an increase in the allocation for international development. Approximately 70% of this allocation for international development is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under Vote 27. Nearly €550 million has been allocated to Vote 27 this year.
The sustainable development goals provide the overarching framework for Irish Aid's work. Those goals require us to leave no one behind and, importantly, to focus on reaching the furthest behind first. The furthest behind are at the heart of what we do. The OECD peer review of Irish Aid, published in May, highlighted the priority which Ireland attaches to targeting the least developed countries, stating that we walked the talk. Importantly, the OECD recognised that this clear focus enables Ireland, as a relatively small donor, to exercise leadership and make a visible difference.
We saw the intangible outworking of that commitment to making a difference last month when Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council for two years, beginning next January. The United Nations system is a key partner for Irish Aid. It is at the heart of the global response to Covid-19. To date, Ireland has provided over €118 million in fresh, repurposed and fast-tracked funding to this global effort. We also carry the torch of multilateralism through our core membership of the European Union, through which a large volume of Irish international development assistance is channelled. Working with others allows us to leverage economies of scale. The €51 million which my Department provides contributes to Team Europe's approach. This has seen EU institutions and member states work closely together in their Covid-19 responses to mobilise over €36 billion since the pandemic was declared. This is to provide quick, effective and coherent support to regions and countries most affected by the virus. Our support to date includes engaging with the World Health Organization, which is, in particular, assisting countries with weaker health systems but we also draw on its expertise in Ireland. Irish funding to the WHO has quadruped this year to over €16 million. Given the strain on the humanitarian system and the need for the system to prepare for the onslaught of the virus, I fast tracked Irish Aid funding. This included €7 million for Palestine through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help meet the needs of 5.6 million Palestinian refugees whose vulnerabilities are multiplied in the current pandemic. This is in addition to the crises in Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan, where Ireland continues to make generous contributions.
There is, as people know, an ongoing crisis in Syria. Last week, I pledged a further €25 million to the continuing humanitarian response there. Across the Sahel belt in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, the need was considerable before Covid hit and is even greater now.
Ireland's approach to humanitarian action is an expression of our values, supported by financial investment which, in 2020, will be just over €90 million. Of course, our investment in effective humanitarian action goes well beyond money. This is why the OECD this year described Ireland as an excellent humanitarian donor.
We know the importance of working in partnership with others. Civil society organisations are essential partners in driving the change that we all want to see, whether that is through Irish NGOs working on the ground in challenging contexts or local NGOs making a difference in their home places. That is why I have budgeted €90 million in Irish Aid support for civil society and development education during 2020. Predictable funding is always important to NGOs, as changes are not achieved without effort over time, and is even more essential than ever now as civil society funding models are strained by the economic consequences of Covid-19. My officials have been working closely with civil society partners at this time to ensure that we understand their needs, and to support them in retooling in response to this crisis and others.
Ireland also plays a constructive role with partner countries, assisting them in their response to Covid-19 and many other things. In Mozambique, for example, the Irish Embassy team built on the strong relationship they, and the HSE, have developed over time with the local health authorities to help them craft an effective national response to the virus.
Work across the mission network on education has helped partners manage through the challenges of educating children at home. This includes education through radio in Sierra Leone, a story which featured on the RTÉ "Home School Hub" last month. This complements Ireland’s investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, education, including with Young Scientists in Africa and Africa Code Week, which reach millions of young people every year. Irish Aid fellowships see over 100 postgraduate students come to Ireland every year. Working with third level institutions here, my officials are ensuring that the programme continues this year notwithstanding the challenges posed by Covid-19.
I am also determined that Covid will not put our investment in climate action in international development off track.
We are working closely with other Departments to ensure that this is a whole-of-government effort. In addition to investing in a range of climate funds, the relationship which Ireland has built up over recent years with small island developing states has a very strong climate focus. Last year I launched a strategy for engaging with these states. This includes a €12 million Irish trust fund at the Asian Development Bank, which is a first, and a range of other initiatives including at the United Nations. Ireland is also a member of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which allows immediate payment to Caribbean countries in the event of a hurricane or climate disaster. There is scope, too, for innovation in the climate space. For example, Ireland is investing in a solar-powered project in Palestine, in Gaza, in partnership with France which will ensure that a groundwater treatment facility is powered in a sustainable way. We are committing about €10 million to that project which is just inside Gaza. The Irish people can take great pride in the work of Irish Aid. As the OECD said in its recent review, it has many areas of excellence. It has found us to be the best in the world at targeting extreme poverty. This Government is committed to building on this good work and to doing more.
I will now turn to Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade. The 2020 allocation for Vote 28 sees an overall increase of €13.1 million or 5.1%. The programme structure for Vote 28 corresponds with the Department’s strategy statement. It also mirrors the priorities as set out in our foreign policy document, The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World. It sets out the Department’s work in five priority areas, namely, supporting our people, engaging actively in the European Union, promoting our values, advancing our prosperity, and strengthening our influence. These correspond directly with expenditure programmes A to E in the revised 2020 Estimates volume.
The Vote 28 priorities for 2020 include Brexit, the passport reform programme, Northern Ireland, Ireland’s place on the UN Security Council, the expansion of the overseas mission network under the Global Ireland 2025 initiative, provision for urgent capital building and security works in our missions abroad, and continuing investment in the Department’s global ICT network. To that list I must also add the Department’s response to Covid-19, including our consular and diaspora outreach response and our role in supporting the country’s economic recovery.
My Department and our mission network around the world play a critical role in promoting and advancing Ireland’s interests through our international engagement. We are committed to implementing the Global Ireland 2025 initiative to double the scope and impact of our global footprint, as set out in the programme for Government, having due regard to available resources. Since 2018 we have opened ten new diplomatic missions to advance our own interests and to support our people. While some delays have been encountered due to the international impact of Covid, we are actively planning openings in Kyiv, Manila and Rabat in the next 12 months. The Government’s overarching ambition under this initiative is to ensure that Ireland is well positioned to secure our national interests, particularly economic interests, globally. Our expanded network will enhance Ireland’s visibility globally, extend our influence, and position us for trade and investment in new and exciting markets.
Programme A covers many key policy areas, including Northern Ireland, consular services and assistance, the emigrant support programme and passport support. Together with passport services, the provision of consular services and assistance lies at the heart of the Department’s engagement with our citizens. This was evidenced during the Covid-19 pandemic when our consular directorate, working closely with our missions, provided advice and assistance to more than 8,000 Irish citizens across all five continents, helping them to return safely home. Covid-19 added a new relevance and urgency to my Department’s travel advice, which we provide for more than 200 countries and make available on our website and the TravelWise app. We reviewed this advice regularly during the crisis, making 1,965 updates during the first half of 2020 alone. In fact, that was done only in the first two months of 2020 because the travel advice since then has been not to travel abroad.
Until the emergence of Covid-19, Irish people were travelling more often and more widely than ever, with a commensurate increase in the demand for consular assistance. In 2019, my Department provided assistance to Irish citizens in more than 1,857 serious consular cases, including 254 arrests, 287 hospitalisations and 293 deaths abroad.
The Passport Service issued 934,000 passports in 2019, the highest number ever issued in a single year. This represented an increase of over 8.6% on the previous year. At the beginning of this year, we expected to issue in excess of a million passports for the first time. However, the impact of Covid-19 on international travel has altered this expectation significantly. I now anticipate that the number of passports issued this year will be less than last year. During the crisis, Passport Office staff were redeployed to assist the processing of the Covid-19 pandemic payment, to assist with HSE contact tracing, and to staff the Department’s call centre set up to handle the consular crisis overseas. They returned to processing passport online applications on 8 June and processed more than 46,000 applications in the first three weeks of getting back to that normality. The 2020 allocation includes a capital allocation of €1 million in respect of the passport reform programme, and this year the programme will focus on the replacement of the software which operates the passport system.
Through the emigrant support programme budget of €12.6 million, the Government provides funding for non-profit organisations and projects to support our most vulnerable emigrants abroad, strengthen global Irish communities, and facilitate the development of closer and more strategic links between Ireland and the global Irish. As the scale of the impact of the pandemic on our diaspora communities became clear, the Government established a dedicated Covid-19 response fund for Irish communities abroad. It targets projects supporting our elderly and more vulnerable members of our communities, and it has new and innovative ways to provide services online. The projects are managed by our mission network and are delivered through existing community welfare organisations and charities.
This programme also deals with matters relating to Northern Ireland, North-South co-operation and British-Irish relations. In the context of the current public health emergency and the potential impact of Brexit, this area of work remains a particular focus of my Department. The New Decade, New Approach agreement in January represented a significant shared achievement of the political parties in Northern Ireland with the Irish and British Governments. It is important that we continue to work closely on a North-South and east-west basis in support of the power-sharing institutions which are so vital for politics in Northern Ireland. The Government is committed to working with the Executive through the North-South Ministerial Council to build connectivity North-South, invest in the north-west region, and explore other opportunities to work together to address shared challenges across the island of Ireland. In that regard, we are looking forward to an early meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in plenary format, bringing the Irish Government and Northern Ireland Executive together for the first time in over three years. We hope to do that before the end of this month.
Programme B provides the framework for the Department’s role in securing Ireland’s influence in EU outcomes through maintaining and growing strong relationships with the EU institutions and other member states. Deputies can get a copy of my speech on our priorities in working with the new German Presidency. In particular, we welcome Germany’s focus on the EU’s future relationship with the UK as a priority of the coming six months. My Department at HQ, through our permanent representation in Brussels, and through our embassy network continues to play a vital role in protecting and advancing Ireland’s core priorities in the Brexit negotiations. We also welcome the priority Germany plans to give to the rule of law in its Presidency. The rule of law is and should remain a fundamental principle that all EU member states respect, promote and implement.
Negotiations on the European Commission’s proposals for the next multi-annual financial framework package or EU budget, which includes a new recovery instrument, are intensifying. We are committed to engaging positively and in a sense of solidarity to reach agreement, while of course also seeking to achieve the best possible result for Ireland.
Programme C covers the Department’s contribution towards a more just world through the promotion and protection of human rights internationally and a more secure world based on a stable and secure rules-based international environment. The majority of current expenditure under this programme is made up of contributions to international organisations.
Programme D is entitled "Our Prosperity". The Department’s work under this programme will focus on leveraging our resources to drive job creation, exports, including cultural exports, inward investment and the tourism and education market. There will be particular focus in 2020 on assisting Irish business in the context of the UK’s exit from the EU and in the post-Covid world. The programme for Government has moved trade promotion back to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I look forward to working with the Tánaiste and his Department in utilising the mission network to support trade promotion globally.
Programme E covers the Department’s work in marshalling its human and other resources at home and abroad to maximise Ireland’s influence internationally. It includes the management and development of staff, the management and mitigation of risk, and compliance with statutory and legal obligations.