UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals: Discussion

It is a great pleasure to welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for overseas development, Deputy Peter Power, to this meeting. The Minister and Minister of State are accompanied by their officials, Mr. Brendan Rogers, director general of Irish Aid, Mr. Michael Gaffney, deputy director, Mr. Finbar O'Brien, counsellor, and Ms Barbara Cullinane, counsellor. Both the Minister and Minister of State returned within the past few days from New York where they attended the UN millennium development goals review summit and the UN General Assembly. As members will be aware, Ireland took a particularly prominent role at the review summit in calling for the prioritising of the fight against hunger and under nutrition. This follows on the recommendations of the hunger task force report. Members will be keen to learn what Ireland has done in the two years since the publication of the hunger task force report to strengthen our work in the fight against hunger. Members will also be keen to learn more about Irish-US co-operation in the area of food security, which comes under the nutrition and hunger umbrella. The focus in this area is on nutrition and under nutrition, particularly for the period from pregnancy to two years or the first 1,000 days, a critical stage in the life of a child. This was an issue the delegation from the committee discussed with the US State Department officials during our visit to the US in June this year. It was our understanding from that meeting that the United States is keen to expand and grow its partnership with Ireland in the fight against hunger.

I must remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I now invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, to address the committee.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to address the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs today on the outcome of the millennium development goals review summit which I attended last week along with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power. We look forward to discussing the outcome of the summit with the committee and the important role which Ireland played both nationally and in co-operation with Secretary of State Clinton, the US Administration, the UN Secretary General and our partners, especially those in Africa.

The millennium development goals are a series of detailed development targets, agreed by the international community in 2000, against which we must measure progress on the eradication of poverty by 2015. It is universally agreed that there has been progress since 2000, notably on primary school enrolments, child health and the treatment of HIV and AIDS. However, it is also clear that the numbers of people living in hunger and poverty continue to increase and that we need to refocus our efforts if we are to meet the goals in five years' time. The highlight of the summit from our point of view was the important international high level meeting on the global hunger crisis which I chaired with Secretary Clinton, in co-operation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I proposed that we co-organise such an event when I met with Secretary Clinton at Farmleigh during her visit to Ireland last October. Its success marks a new step forward in Ireland's development policy and an important broadening of our already close relations with the United States.

Members may recall that over a year ago the Taoiseach asked the ambassador in the United States to undertake a strategic review of our relationship with the United States. In that context we were anxious to pursue other areas of substantial partnership with the United States, beyond the more historic issues dominating the bilateral exchange. This event and the closer co-operation on hunger can be seen in that context. I have met Secretary of State Clinton on a number of occasions since she came to office and she feels Ireland has a particular contribution to make in the field of hunger. She was very much taken by the hunger task force report published two years ago with the help of the Department and Irish Aid. This has given Ireland a distinctive lead in terms of advocacy on the issue of hunger and it is in this area that the US sees a partnership with Ireland can bring added value and help to galvanise other countries and non-governmental organisations across the globe. I thank Irish Aid officials and my colleague, Deputy Peter Power, for their input into the preparation for that meeting.

We had an intensive three days at the summit. In addition to plenary sessions at which the heads of delegation of all the participating states delivered their national statements, there were detailed discussions in round table format addressing the key elements of each of the millennium development goals. From early this year, Ireland had been deeply engaged in the preparations for the summit at national, EU and international level. We have worked closely with the Irish development NGOs to ensure that Ireland's total contribution to poverty reduction across all sectors was well reflected in the outcome. I was very pleased that there was strong representation at the summit by Irish development organisations, notably Dóchas, Concern, Trócaire and Gorta. We met them in formal session in New York.

One of the key principles informing our input to the summit was the need to achieve all of the millennium development goals universally in order to reduce global hunger and poverty. Ireland believes strongly that progress on any one goal will be sustainable only when supported by progress in others. In our preparations, therefore, Ireland placed a central emphasis on the global hunger crisis, which we believe is impeding progress across the full range of development goals. The first millennium development goal commits the international community to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, but with just five years to go some 1 billion people in the world still face the crisis of hunger. These are children, mothers and fathers who do not have enough to eat and whose futures are in peril every day. There are 92 million more people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa today than there were in 1990.

The report of the Government's hunger task force, which was launched at the UN just two years ago, has galvanised international attention on the hunger crisis. Its recommendations were very clear, and the Government has accepted them. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, has been actively implementing the hunger task force recommendations right across Irish Aid over the past two years. We firmly believe that smallholder agriculture is the essential and missing element to addressing hunger and income poverty. We also need to recognise the particular vulnerability of women and children to hunger and food insecurity and the fact that women are themselves the main producers of food in developing countries. A total of 80% of smallholder farmers in Africa are women and it is also women who have the primary responsibility for children and the family.

The second principle underlying Ireland's approach was that the millennium development goals are simply not delivering for the most vulnerable. It has been estimated that the goal to reduce maternal mortality by 75% will take over 50 years if poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain at their current level. It is essential in our view that priority be given to regions and groups that are making the least progress. We have argued that a substantially increased proportion of global overseas development aid should go to sub-Saharan Africa and other least developed countries. A total of 80% of our own aid programme is concentrated on sub-Saharan Africa. I will be raising this issue with EU colleagues in the coming weeks and months because it is a fundamental advocacy issue. Not enough world aid or a significantly sufficient proportion of world aid is directed at sub-Saharan Africa. There is a lot of aid but in our view it is not targeted at the most vulnerable and this is a key policy objective for us to argue at the international fora of which Ireland is a member and where we have influence.

I believe that Ireland succeeded in ensuring a strong focus on these priorities throughout the three-day summit. They are reflected clearly in the statement which I delivered to the summit, but also in the outcome document which was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. Ireland focused its political level input during the summit on the issue of poverty and hunger. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, participated in the first of the round tables discussions on poverty, hunger and gender equality. He focused the discussion on practical steps the international community can take to tackle under-nutrition. This prepared for the major international meeting the following day which I co-hosted with US Secretary of State Clinton and which marked the launch of a new partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector to address under-nutrition. The meeting was also addressed by the UN Secretary General, by the Foreign Minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, and by representatives of international civil society, including Tom Arnold of Concern. The second part of the meeting was chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and by the head of the US aid programme. It explored in detail the interventions which have already been successful in numerous countries, and heard from development ministers and international experts on hunger and nutrition. Under-nutrition remains one of the world's most serious, but least addressed, problems and yet, we know what needs to be done to tackle it. We know that the first 1,000 days, the period beginning with pregnancy and continuing until a child is two years old, is the critical period. Under-nutrition during this time results in irreversible long-term damage to a child's development. This period of 1,000 days was identified by the hunger task force as a priority area for action. It is also a priority for the Obama Administration. Together we have placed it clearly on the international agenda. The new partnership we launched is based on the scaling up nutrition framework, which is led by the UN Secretary General. It will focus on those countries and regions which are making the least progress. The fact that this event was held at such a high level, including participation by the Secretary General of the United Nations, signifies the importance which we attach to the issue of global hunger. It has undoubtedly enhanced significantly the already high reputation of Ireland's aid programme.

Ultimately the success of last week's meetings and discussions can only be measured by the impact on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable on our planet. We must ask where we go from here. Official development assistance is an essential, but not the sole, contribution to international development. The international target is to devote 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid by 2015. Last year, Ireland provided 0.54%, in very difficult budgetary circumstances. We are committed to achieving the 0.7% target by 2015. As I informed the UN General Assembly, since 2000, Ireland has provided some €6 billion in official development assistance. This is an extraordinarily large sum of money. It is without precedent in any other decade since the foundation of the State. The global economic crisis has simultaneously hit the least developed countries and imposed pressures on development budgets world-wide. In these circumstances, it is essential that we focus rigorously on the effectiveness of our aid and that we prioritise key sectors.

We will continue to focus our overseas development aid spending on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. We will devote 20% of the Irish Aid programme to the fight against hunger. We will work hard to galvanise further international support and action for accelerated progress on hunger and under-nutrition. Secretary of State Clinton and I undertook to return to the UN General Assembly in 2013 to report on the progress that we have made. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on how we can work together on Ireland's role in the renewed effort to achieve the millennium development goals. I believe that Ireland played an important part in this international effort last week in New York. The challenge now is to build on this in the years up to 2015 and beyond, working in partnership with countries and communities in the developing world.

I reiterate what the Minister said, that the extent and level of our engagement at the very highest level in the global international community at the United Nations, enhances the already very high reputation of the aid programme. A good week's work was done in the name of Ireland in New York last week. I will await the committee's questions and I will be happy to assist.

Before members ask questions I wish to welcome our visitors. A number of ambassadors and representatives from a variety of countries are present today and they are all very welcome.

I welcome the Minister and Minister of State and their officials. This is a very important report. There are matters of substance that can be reported and welcomed, particularly the joint initiative on hunger of Ireland and the United States. Relying on the reports one could not but be very pleased with that development. I wish to raise one or two matters which are more directed at this half-way point review rather than at anything else. My first point is that if one takes the eight millennium development goals, of which this was a review at the halfway point of five years, the performance across the eight goals is uneven. In our preparatory meetings with significant NGOs, non-governmental organisations and alliances of NGOs, it was very clear that it differed, not only as one moved from one goal to another, but also as one moved from one part of the world to another. This led to rather specific proposals that the outcome of the review should lead to increased resources and a flexibility of resources and the capacity to move within and between the goals and from one part of their allocation, one location to another. This is to bring up, as it were, the prospect of arriving in five years' time at a completion point that would be better. Those who are involved as practitioners on the ground had been asking for caucus meetings between alliances and groups that might actually achieve that. My first question is about the degree to which that preparatory set of aims was in fact achieved.

I have one or two other positive points to make. I do not mind saying that I think the Minister and Minister of State are sincere in their commitment, not just at home but also in their dealings with international bodies, to achieving significant gains across the millennium development goals. I have a number of questions to ask. I welcome the Minister's reiteration of Ireland's commitment to the 0.7% target. We all remember that on the occasion of the announcement of the millennium development goals, the then Taoiseach made a statement committing Ireland to such a position. His statement was widely welcomed and encountered much praise. There was a reduction of approximately €203 million in our level of overseas development aid between 2008 and 2009. If the outcome of the 7 December discussion on the budget and the related capital allocations is to be that we reach 0.55%, it will cost €50 million. There is no point in this committee not emphasising that the cost of the achievement of 0.55% would be €50 million. The cost of the decrease from 0.59% to 0.55%, which took place between 2008 and 2009, was approximately €20 million. I do not doubt that we will return to this matter before the end of the year.

I would like to ask a question about something that has astonished me. I will speak in a moment about the position taken at the General Assembly. I will give people a chance to compose their responses to what I have to say. It is extraordinary that Ireland abstained on the question of the universal human right to water. I will return to that issue in a moment. I will not be very long.

I wish to add to the positive remarks I have made so far. When countries have friendly relations with each other, they do not browbeat each other to take part in wars or invasions. Instead, they seek to influence foreign policy. I applaud Ireland's influence on the joint co-operation on hunger reduction at global level, which is a valuable exercise of friendship. I welcome the fact that the new concept of climate justice is becoming more popularly used. If one speaks of the right of the current and future populations of the world to a sustainable planet, and if one uses phrases like "climate justice", one is required to show transparently the differential impact involved. I refer to the cost of the degradation of the planet for different groups of people. Nomadic populations, which are disproportionately affected by desertification, are at one end of the spectrum. Their animals are dying, for example. The phrase "climate justice" means nothing unless one is prepared to show the differential impact of climate degradation.

I welcome many aspects of what the Minister is doing. I have mentioned the specific reference to female mortality. I would like to return to the specific area of the General Assembly's vote on the right to water. There was no common European position. I understand that Germany voted in favour of the proposition. The argument that was used was quite complex. Why should I raise this issue? This is not merely a matter of academic interest. Lack of access to water kills more children each year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. An absence of sanitation affects approximately 2.6 billion, or 40% of the population of the world. I will outline how the issue arose. Technical consultation on the text of a document specifying a right to water took place through the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The Government and its counterparts in the US, Canada and elsewhere — three groups of countries were involved — decided to abstain on the basis that the General Assembly vote would affect the Geneva discussions. I find that totally unconvincing. As I understand it, the German view was that the General Assembly vote would be of assistance to the Geneva process.

When I tried to think about this for myself — I have inner discussions in my mind about development — I asked myself whether it would be unworthy to think that Ireland was, in some sense, trading its abstention in this area for something else in another area. It is interesting to note the countries that abstained. If there were genuinely Irish reasons for our abstention, based on the text, I would like to hear them. I understand that when the Egyptian foreign minister, with his representative, examined the argument that was made about the General Assembly and the Geneva discussions, he suggested that no new rights would come into existence as a result of the resolution. If that is the case, why did we not vote for it? I do not understand that at all. We had an opportunity to make a strong statement in the context of the millennium development goals.

I will finish on this point. I do not seem to have made much progress over the years in convincing people in this regard. I feel morally compelled to say a final sentence on the matter. As I read the account of the discussions on the millennium development goals, I was reminded that the most courageous statement required is never made. The statement in question relates to the development model that assumes one can save the lives of people in future generations and establish inter-generational justice by means of an internationalised neoliberal economic model. There is not a jot of evidence to suggest that can happen. I am afraid politicians will be dealing with indigenous rights — for real — when they finally realise a plurality of models are needed, in the interests of food production, food security and paths to development, to replace the single disastrous model that hangs like an albatross around the living world.

I should mention that the committee decided earlier to compile its next report on the issue of water in developing countries. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on that later in the meeting.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Martin, for his presentation. I compliment the Minister, the Minister of State and the delegation as a whole on the work they did in New York this year. The real test will be how it is followed up.

As a result of the summit, what new initiatives or improved measures will be taken to alleviate hunger? What steps were discussed at the round table meeting chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power? Will initiatives arise from that? In the statement he made in New York, the Minister, Deputy Martin, spoke about creating partnerships at all levels so that action can be taken on nutrition. I wonder if he could elaborate a little on how such partnerships would work. I was glad to hear the Minister reiterate this morning that the level of funding provided by Ireland will reach 0.7% by 2015. I hope we will not reduce such funding in the forthcoming budget. I suggest that the level of funding we have provided this year should be maintained, at least, in 2011.

I wish to speak about the development of initiatives to alleviate hunger. The Minister's statement placed a great deal of emphasis on supporting agriculture. How will that work in terms of getting the best value for money? I assume many different agencies, including native governments, would be involved in supporting the development of small farms. I am concerned about the question of co-operation and co-ordination in that context. An integrated approach is needed to ensure not only that the maximum number of small farms benefit, but that we get proper value for money.

I thank the Chairman for his kind words of welcome. It is a great pleasure to be a member of this committee. I join others in thanking the Minister, Deputy Martin, for a comprehensive report. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, on the good work he is doing in the area which is well above party politics. This country has a great tradition in terms of the role we play in the developing world through Ministers and Ministers of State. Despite our own difficulties it is important we continue our ongoing commitment.

People do not realise the level of instability that can occur in the world because of hunger and a lack of education and facilities. We have failed to convince the world about the dangers of climate change. Up to recently I chaired the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. It is an ongoing battle to convince people that this is a real problem. It is something we do not want to know about. We argue about whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling but the reality is that the goal one is trying to achieve in dealing with the massive problem of hunger will become more difficult to reach if we do not deal with climate change because of the effect of shifts in population and the drying up of the earth. One must condemn the failure of major politicians when they gathered in Copenhagen that they could not come up with a solution to deal with the issue. We are chasing our tails. More money is required to deal with hunger because more people are becoming hungry as the earth is becoming less fertile. It is important we make these points at every opportunity in committee. It is not about whether Ireland is getting warmer, it is about the rest of the world. We will have to deal with the problem of massive shifts in population. Immigration will become a greater problem as people will come looking for food.

There will be slums in cities.

Exactly. This is a massive problem and it is something we must address and take seriously. I congratulate Europe on taking a stand and trying to take a lead in this area even though the targets set may appear difficult to achieve. The European Union has a great role to play in the world because we are not afraid to take a leading position. We should take a leading position in terms of providing aid to developing countries.

I was astonished at the recent lack of response to the tragedy in Pakistan. There was a failure by the developed world to come together and immediately supply not just money but skills and professional assistance to deal with the problem of rebuilding roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure. We spent a lot of time talking about a rapid response force, a battle group. Who is going to be taking on whom that we have to prepare ourselves to the extent of constantly training our soldiers? Europe has a major asset in its rapid response force of skilled officers that could be used in areas where tragedies occur. It should make such skills available. Perhaps the Minister would take lead in this regard within Europe to seek agreement that these groups that have been formed with the original idea of defending ourselves should now be used as a rapid response corps to deal with major tragedies.

I admire the 20% target on the eradication of hunger. One of the main goals is to achieve universal primary education. We have a large number of unemployed schoolteachers. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, suggested that people who are unemployed could do community work and that they would be paid jobseeker's allowance. Why do we not have a civilian corps so that we can provide teachers to the Third World under such a scheme? We have numerous architects, engineers and tradespeople who are all unemployed at present. Why do we not used such people in a civilian corps as part of our overseas aid target of 0.7% of GDP? They could build schools and carry out various projects. We have many opportunities not alone to help the developing world but also our own people. It would be great for people who are unemployed to feel they were doing something of value to the rest of the world. That could be promoted within Europe. It is not just about money. How does one measure whether we achieve our target of 0.7% of GDP? Is it by totting up the millions and saying we contributed a certain sum of money? What about looking at other ways of meeting the target? We have young farmers who are educated and skilled people who could give up a year to help people in the Third World to engage in agriculture. There are many ways in which we could make a major contribution. We must start thinking outside the box.

I do not regard this issue as a party political one. I do not claim that anyone has all the solutions. We should examine all the solutions put forward. We have a lot to contribute as a small nation within the European Union by leading and asking for greater European co-operation to try to deal with these important issues. I use the committee to urge people to wake up and realise that climate change is an important issue. It is probably one of the greatest evils that affects us. It will continue to cause problems.

I welcome the distinguished delegation, our two Ministers and their staff and supporters. I join the Chairman in welcoming Deputy Seán Barrett. At the outset he has made an important and constructive contribution. The committee will be strengthened by his presence on it. It is important we take a creative approach to the achievement of the millennium development goals and to our assistance to people in the undeveloped world. What he has suggested is excellent. I say that with a certain vested interest because I am on the board of Voluntary Service Overseas. The Minister and his advisers are well aware of the valuable work done by that organisation. Senator Hannigan has just returned from a period spent in Nepal. Another colleague was unfortunate enough to go to Kazakhstan. I hope he was able to provide constructive and visionary advice there because they certainly need it. He or she did come back. I am not sure who it was.

With regard to Pakistan, I share the great concern of Deputy Barrett. Circumstances are complicated by the fact that it is not just the developed world that is shy of contributing to Pakistan. A number of countries in the developing world, including Pakistan's neighbours, had political concerns about where their money and assistance might end up. That, again, is a subdivision of a complex set of circumstances because people who come from a strong Islamic background have done very valuable work. I was listening to a doctor on the BBC World Service and it was suggested that the organisation with which he was associated was linked to Islamic nationalists almost with some remote connection to al-Qaeda. The man was a doctor and was working in a very idealistic way to help the people in Pakistan. There is reluctance and hesitation and it is regrettable because it is people on the cutting edge who are being injured.

I share Deputy Higgins's very clear view. I would not apologise for being academic in respect of elements thereof. He has brought a very fine academic understanding to the situation and we must welcome that. I support very much what he said about water. He suggested this was the elephant in the room. That elephant has a much older and larger brother that is never mentioned, but which underlies everything, including what Deputy Barrett said. I refer to the extraordinary and continual explosion in population. I regret that the invitation I have just received from the UNFPA, which is launching a report on global population, once again avoids mentioning the serious underlying concerns about population. We have seen a report in recent years on women's education and female genital mutilation, which are terribly important problems. Why do we avoid the question of population? That is what is triggering climate change and water and food shortages.

It is possible we may realise one of the development goals by the target date. The others are unlikely to be met in any realistic way. There is also a financial element. Many people are disillusioned by countries stepping up not to the plate but to the television cameras and announcing a financial contribution that is subsequently not met. There should be a roll of shame for these countries. Every year there should be a report stating what countries promised and what they gave. It should list the shortfall. We should hold to account countries with shortfalls.

I was very interested to hear that our neighbour, the United Kingdom, is claiming it will meet the 0.7% target by the specified date. That is a headline for us and we should join the United Kingdom in this. I am independent and non-partisan in this matter but regret that we did not accept the argument made by all parties that we could sustain a contribution at 0.7% because of the economic contraction and because it was expressed as part of our national income. We could have done that honourably. We should not have made the cut. Sustaining the contribution would be unpopular with the public, perhaps, because people want to look after their own first. That is a political problem that every political party must face but, in honour, we should do as I propose. I say this because last year the committee was told by a series of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, that people would die because of the cutbacks in our aid. We are dealing with life and death. People will die because we are not giving money to sustain programmes.

Food security comprises a very important area. I apologise because I will have to leave to collect documents before the Order of Business in the Seanad, which is to start in approximately six minutes, but I always read the Minister's answers. My primary duty is to the House to which I have been elected. Unfortunately, not even I can bi-locate yet, but that is coming.

Yes. I would like a comment from the Minister on recent reports that the food security situation is deliberately exacerbated by financial institutions which in some instances are gambling on the futures exchanges. Major banking corporations and interests have been named publicly as helping to provoke famine. It is really shattering that, for profit, people are prepared to see other inhabitants of this planet die so they can feed their greed.

Will the Minister comment on another submission that was made? The Chairman, Deputy Higgins, I and some others were advised by international groups about the sophisticated accounting practices engaged in by multinational corporations that have industrial commitments in some of the developing countries in question. They use accounting practices to defraud the developing countries. Is anything being progressed in this area?

Particularly in the extractive industries.

Exactly, particularly in the extractive industries. I wish I had time to listen more and say a little more but I know others must contribute as well.

I thank the Chairman. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and acknowledge the work they have done over recent years to reach the goals we are aiming for by 2015. I also welcome Deputy Barrett to our committee and look forward to working with him. As he said in his contribution, it is all about how we pool our ideas and not always about money. That is a very important line. We must think about how we can change practices and implement new ideas to achieve better results without having to spend more money. That will be a very important question for us in the future.

The key millennium goal begs the question as to how we eradicate hunger and poverty. The goals concern child mortality, employment and the empowerment of women. From my experience of visiting marginalised countries, I realise the power of women is colossal. How can we best empower women? They produce 50% of the food and are the key people dealing with children and health. They deal with primary education and are not appreciated in that they have no standing in their countries. We should revisit our framework to determine how best we can empower women. From my experience, I note that some countries are excellent in terms of how they have empowered their women to eradicate poverty. Some countries are better than others. Why is this? Why is there such uneven progress in that some countries are doing very well and others are not? Is it a question of how the money is spent? Is it a question of dealing with the governments? We must ask how we deal with civic society and the governments in the countries in question. How do we stand up? The global partnership concept in some countries is excellent while it is not in others. Perhaps this is an area we should examine.

I welcome the commitment to meet our target by 2015. It is possible to meet it by changing our ideas on how we implement policies in these areas. These are just a few questions that make me feel that while there is still progress, it is very uneven. Why is it so uneven?

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Power, for the way in which he responds to me when I am in touch with him. Much that is positive has emerged. I acknowledge the work of Irish people on the ground in Third World countries because sometimes it is overlooked when we are talking in percentages. While there is much that is positive, it is very disturbing to read in the Minister of State's speech that the actual number of people living with hunger and in poverty is continuing to increase in spite of everything that has been done.

I welcome the Minister's statement that the period of 1,000 days has been placed clearly on the international agenda and that he is committed to achieving the target of 0.7% of GDP. How will this be achieved? While we can be good at talking the talk, how will we walk the walk? Up to €6 billion in overseas development aid in ten years is a significant sum. The Minister acknowledged there were areas where interventions have been successful but also areas where less progress was made. Has there been a report on why interventions may be successful in one area but not in another?

The Dóchas report pointed out that one in five people in donor countries has a disability but it is not acknowledged in any of the millennium development goals. Will this be included in future considerations of the goals?

I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their comprehensive report on the recent proceedings at the UN. As Senator Norris mentioned, I was lucky to benefit from taking part in the VSO's politicians for development programme this year, spending several weeks in Nepal. While it is not one of our programme countries, it is a country to which we give significant amounts through NGOs and other forms of support. Today, I am hosting a Nepalese MP who has come to visit the Oireachtas to discuss Nepal's development goals and how it will deal with its recent conflict.

When I was there, I was fortunate to meet some members of the UK's Department for International Development, DFID. As the UK Government is upscaling its programme to meet the 0.7% commitment by 2012, DFID is having issues with how it is going to manage the increase in moneys coming its way. It must decide on whether it will set up programmes in more countries or target particular areas such as hunger eradication.

I am glad of the Ministers' statements that we will reach the 0.7% goal in four and a half years and that the Irish Government will increase its overseas development budget by 30%. What will this break down into in year-on-year increases? As a result of the increases, does the Minister expect to increase the number of programme countries or will it be concentrated on existing areas such as food security?

My question relates to the issue raised by Deputy Michael D. Higgins of agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa where most of our donor countries are located. Developing trade is one way of getting people out of poverty. For every dollar given in aid to a developing country, the US and the EU take three dollars back in trade.

What a Guatemalan farmer charges for his dairy produce, for example, cannot compete with the price for Danish powdered milk. As a result, Guatemalan farmers are forced to slaughter their own herds. South African sugar producers cannot compete with their European counterparts. If we do not allow developing nations to trade fairly, we are not allowing them to get out of poverty. While we might allow them to survive, we will not allow them to grow. EU trade policies are doing great damage to developing countries by preventing them from expanding their own trade and getting out of poverty.

If the Minister agrees, the committee can have a discussion about the Irish Aid 2009 annual report at a later date.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins welcomed the high level international meeting we had at the summit with the United States. It involved both the private sector and NGOs. For example, Concern and Bread for the World were partners in this initiative along with the chief executive of Coca Cola, Muhtar Kent. He committed his organisation to the 1,000-day nutrition initiative. Nike is involved in specific projects assisting and protecting adolescent women in some countries.

It was a high level gathering covering all three sectors of development work with eight countries represented. The meeting helped galvanise those countries committed to the development goals around a common agenda and objective. While there will be a report back to the UN Assembly in 2013 on the outcomes of these initiatives, there will be a meeting next June to reflect on progress made in the specific Irish-US initiatives which the US Secretary of State, Ms Clinton, requested. The challenge for Irish Aid and its US counterparts is to have demonstrable projects in our partner countries that reflect the commitments made at this high level meeting.

The uneven achievements with the goals, especially the geographical aspect, have been striking. In analyses before the summit, some argued Asia had masked the story. In China, for example, approximately 450 million people have come out of poverty in the past decade because of economic growth. In sub-Saharan Africa, the same has not happened. I accept it is not comparing like with like but the importance of economic growth cannot be divorced from the aid and development side of the equation. That is why I have asked departmental officials to examine an aid-and-trade strategy for Africa. Africa can go in certain directions in the next decade but we must do more to underpin and support initiatives to facilitate African societies and governments to do better in promoting economic growth. That would be without compromising or undermining the principles that govern our aid programme such as untied aid and so forth.

We have also found that primary school enrolment is relatively good. When I visited Uganda recently, for instance, I learned that it looked as if that country would reach the millennium development goal on primary school enrolment. Already the debate is switching in Uganda, from enrolment to completion and effective and active participation. It is not enough to have children turning up — they have to be fed while they are at school. They obviously must complete the primary stage and move on to second level and so on. That debate is now happening.

There have been significant striking advances on the AIDS-HIV front. The figure I got in Ethiopia suggests the incidence is down to around 2.5%. In Uganda it has come down from 18% to about 6%. We need to do more as politicians to convince society of these success stories. We have to criticise non-achievement or lack of achievement, but there is a terrible cynicism on the street that we must combat to the effect that aid is not effective and does not work, and that it goes into some big hole and moneys are absorbed in bureaucracies and so on. We have been working to see how we might pick eight or nine tangible significant achievements over a decade, say, in the lives of people in particular locations, to be able to say, in effect, "That is what your contributions have done, and that is what the taxpayer has achieved in making these contributions".

We in Ireland can point to our programme countries. I mentioned Uganda as a good example of primary school enrolment. We played a role in that. It is important to keep that on board in supporting the general thrust not just of Government, but what I like to think of as Oireachtas policy, in relation to the developing world and particularly as regards sub-Saharan Africa.

I have mentioned the commitment to the 0.7%. I was interested in Senator Hannigan's comments about absorption in this regard. The percentage mechanism was a challenge for us, when one considers the €6 billion figure over ten years. That is a great deal of money and one of the reasons was that we had runaway economic growth. If the percentage targets are tied to GNP which is reaching 7% or 8%, then suddenly an enormous dollop of money is coming in, in one year, and sometimes that is not healthy. If the capacity is not there to absorb and spend such moneys properly, this raises challenges and presents issues that have to be addressed. We managed to divert a substantial amount into multilateral organisations. Perhaps that was one of the reasons we worked very hard to get central emergency reserve funding in place for natural disasters. That idea came out of the tsunami in 2004, so that the UN might have a reserve fund to immediately target Haiti or other locations, such as Pakistan, instead of, as Senator Norris says, somebody stepping up to the plate to declare, in effect, "We pledge this or that". One might discover after a while that the full amount might not have come for a long time afterwards. It is much better to have pre-positioning, although this creates challenges, too.

However, we have challenges now, and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to see this. This is a fast moving situation in terms of our budgetary position. The events of the past week have put this into sharp relief and we will do everything we can, obviously, to protect the budget here, and move towards the 0.7%. We are at 0.52% in 2010 and that is where we shall be at the end of the year, depending on how the GNP figure works out. It might even be slightly higher now — whereas the EU target for 2010 is 0.51%. Therefore Ireland is still ahead of where the EU wants us to be. Some EU countries are extremely good, the Nordics and Luxembourg in particular. Others have lagged behind, however.

In terms of the universal right to water, this is always an issue. A process is in place where 122 countries voted "Yes" and 41 abstained, while within the EU 18 countries abstained, including Ireland. There is no agenda here, I can assure Deputy Higgins, no trade-offs or politicking going on. The EU put forward amendments aimed at consensus, but this was not taken on board by the main sponsor, Bolivia. As the Deputy has mentioned, there is a parallel process going on in Geneva at the Human Rights Council to clarify the content on human rights obligations as regards access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Ireland believes that is a conclusive initiative. We had this on nuclear agreements during the week as well, in terms of the IAEA and so on.

That is not a delegated responsibility.

The point is that the Bolivian resolution was endeavouring to bypass the Geneva process. Our view is that the Geneva process has a good prospect of success and if we are sincere about building consensus we should work on that basis. We are now co-sponsoring a resolution at Geneva on the right to water and sanitation and we hope we can achieve consensus on that since it is the best way forward.

The Deputy knows, as we all do, that water could be the cause of war.

It is a very serious issue. One just has to look at the Nile, Egypt, Uganda, DRC and other countries to see there are very serious issues there. We hope a diplomatic process of consultation will help resolve that issue, although it may not. There are very serious issues there. We must get countries around to the idea that there has to be dialogue and engagement. They cannot just unilaterally say, in effect: "We have the right to that, and others do not." This is an ongoing issue in the Middle East which is fundamental to the resolution of the peace process. It is not just about land. One of the biggest problems in the Middle East has been the very uneven share-out of water.

We differ on that. I believe it would have helped the Geneva process.

I am not so sure it would have. For example, take the Middle East where Ireland chaired at the NPT review conference the motion on the resolution pertaining to a nuclear-free Middle East. Ireland achieved significant momentum. That had been stalled for longer than ten years and we managed to move it forward. People may be sceptical, but a conference is to be held in 2012 on a nuclear-free Middle East, including Israel. I believe it was an extraordinary achievement by our people who chaired that process, in bringing everybody on board on that motion.

Again at Geneva this time around, at the IAEA, motions were tabled by Egypt and others which, ostensibly, we could support but which effectively would have undermined the work we did at the NPT review conference six months ago, where we brought every country on board. Either we are on the process for consensus and engagement or we revert to a position where there is absolutism in terms of declarations that, in practice, achieve very little in terms of bringing countries together to negotiate. That is the tactical strategic call we have to make. We have opted for giving the Human Rights Council process at Geneva a fair shot.

On maternal mortality, much of what we are saying and why advocacy is extremely important, points to the fact that a great deal can be accomplished, too, with little money. I am struck by a project that a team in Cork has been doing with a hospital in Khartoum, in terms of neonatal care and maternal mortality. It is all about protocols and setting standards. As Deputy Barrett said, it is a matter of people going over and saying, in effect, "This is how we do things. If you do X, Y and Z you can have an appreciable impact on the levels of infant and maternal mortality in your hospital". The outcome of that small project has been very significant for the hospital in Khartoum in terms of outcomes. The money is not enormous, by any stretch of imagination. It is a question of partnership and the engagement of the people who have been going there for quite a long time. The outcomes are very impressive.

Senator Ormonde asked if we can look at the way we do things, which, of course, we can. We have focused on undernutrition because it can be dealt with at relatively low cost. We have looked at what happens in practice and we have identified issues where a change of practice can have a significant impact, for example breast-feeding, micro nutrients, food fortification, deworming and so on. A smart approach to value for money will have a major impact. I agree with Deputy Higgins on the plurality of models. Deputy O'Hanlon raised the issue of partnerships and we are very anxious to develop strong partnerships with other countries, NGOs and private sector organisations to tackle undernutrition.

As I said in my speech, 80% of smallholders are women and in response to Senator Daly's point on macro issues, the bottom line is to enable small farmers to get to markets within a distance of three miles. If we could achieve that we would be doing a great deal for well-being and sustainability. There are macro trade issues, but in essence many of these small farms have no market access and we need to put in place mechanisms and supports that enable them to access the markets.

Deputy Barrett raised fundamental issues with which I strongly agree. He has tied the issues back to our experience. People complain about emigration in Ireland but do not make the connection with what is happening globally. There is dramatic population growth as Senator Norris identified, but if one looks at demographics and climate change, there is an inevitability about what will happen if we do not intervene and make change. Food insecurity and climate are potentially significant sources of instability in the future.

I met the former Prime Minister of Australia, now Foreign Minister, Mr. Kevin Rudd, who, I think, took a principled stand on climate change in Australia. He said it was about as popular in Australia as in the United States, in other words it was not popular at all. What struck me in New York was the waste on the streets compared with the leaps we have made in dealing with household and commercial waste.

People complain about carbon taxes but climate change is central to the world and requires a mindset shift in all our agendas. Climate change is a major issue. At the moment there is a lull because the recession has reduced energy consumption to a degree but in a year or two this problem will be on our doorstep. What happened in BP is a consequence of the significant risks that people take to extract oil. Cutting corners is happening all over the world in the desire to get oil into production.

In Ireland people have objections to the windmills that generate energy from wind power. We are 80% reliant on fossil fuels, so this is a very important agenda. In Africa, desertification is a problem and some of the conflict that is emerging is because of the reduced land acreage. We were in northern Uganda and could see at first hand the consequences for a people with a pastoral tradition, as land gets more scarce leading to conflict around cattle and significant cattle rustling. Deputy Barrett in his contribution hit the nail on the head——

The guns are supplied by the European Union.

----and the Deputy correctly states that Europe leads. I agree with the Deputy on battle groups as well. I made this point at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting and I will be making it more strongly. We have had the battle groups for quite some time and I feel such a group should have gone to Haiti. These people are prepared and very good on logistics, engineering skills, discipline, order and so on and they are trained. It is crazy that they are not moving faster to deploy battle groups in situations. It would give the lie to some of the conspiracy theories around the formation of the battle groups in the first instance. I was struck by the contribution of the Swedish general and his comments to that effect, however, I was away at the time. Some countries in Europe are pushing this agenda as well. In the post-Lisbon environment, I get a sense of greater coherence and continuity under the High Representative and there may be a stronger prospect of what the Deputy has articulated happening.

In terms of universal primary education, the civilian corps and teachers play a role. We support about 1,400 or more volunteers and VSO Ireland which sends teachers to the developing world. What is more critical is that we develop teacher training capacity within these countries. I know that Mary Immaculate College is working in Zambia and Uganda. We have supported teacher training as ultimately the country has to increase its capacity to train teachers in order to impart skills. We support 100 internships between the Department and non-governmental organisations. Students and graduates in development studies or international relations studies can now avail of good internships, where they get paid and have good experience in these countries. What is important to the volunteer movement is the standards so that the volunteers are well prepared in a co-ordinated way. We support VSO and SUAS. I am open to further suggestions and we are prodding to see if we can do more, particularly in the current climate where people could get valuable experience as well as doing good in communities.

There is a difficulty in that another committee is due to start at 11 a.m.

I will conclude. Given that Senator Norris is interested in exploring bi-location, I will ask my officials to give a written response to his presentation.

We have committed €180 million to Uganda during the next five years through a combination of direct State aid and supports to the NGO movement. When we made that announcement, I was surprised at the level of criticism rather than positive comment on the continued support for Uganda. Senator Norris has correctly identified the mood and we should be mindful of that in terms of convincing people that this is important.

We are involved with the OECD on accounting practices. The European Union Foreign Ministers Council in June took an initiative in terms of country-by-country reporting and far more transparency by multinationals in this area.

On the question of how we empower women, we had a very good illustration in Ethiopia, where they have 30,000 health workers, all young women with an educational standard of leaving certificate equivalent who are in the homes with very good public health programmes, helping women on a whole range of issues including sanitation, household management and vaccination. That is a very good model which I saw in operation and which we could usefully apply.

They have done some very good work on water in Ethiopia and we visited some of them.

Irish Aid has been particularly strong in developing irrigation projects in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which has been transformative.

I congratulate Senator Hannigan on his good work. It is great that he went out on that programme, as did others. It provides a good example that Members like Senator Daly and Senator Hannigan are prepared to do that work. It reflects well on the Oireachtas.

The Minister of State, Deputy Power, will launch a report next week on the issue of population. We can provide Deputy O'Sullivan with a report on the outcomes and we can provide a summary on what has worked. Our view is that governance is vital and that we have to keep trying to improve the capacity of the country we are working with to deliver programmes on the ground.

The partnership with the US is very significant. We are a relatively small donor, but we are leveraging our international leadership and global advocacy role with a very big country to deliver for countries in Africa. The Minister and Secretary of State Clinton launched this initiative in New York in the presence of the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon. We are asking key countries to scale up nutrition, to embrace the 1,000 day programme, to change their country programmes so that every part of their systems, be it health, education or agriculture, delivers on the nutritional side. The evidence is mounting that if we do intervene from the moment of conception to 1,000 days later, irreversible damage is done to the mental and physical development of the child. Committee members travel to Africa all the time and the physical manifestation of this is the extent of stunted growth. The worst manifestation for me is the lack of mental development because it is something we cannot give back to a child.

The MDGs were the subject of the summit and they dealt with maternal health, the empowerment of children, especially young girls, and education, which is the ultimate driver of economic growth. None of those MDGs is achievable unless we get this right, and Ireland is stepping up to the plate and beginning to mobilise international opinion in this area. We expect to see around eight countries embrace this project and scale up nutritional intervention in their own countries. As the Minister pointed out, this can be relatively cheap. Fortification of food, agricultural inputs, education of women in terms of hygiene for their children and so on allows nutrition to take its rightful place in the development of a country. It was a good week for the Irish Aid programme in taking a leadership role, which is what we were asked to do in the hunger task force report.

Can I ask about the disability issue?

There was a strong statement on disability in the outcome of the summit. There has been a significant movement towards the inclusion of disability and getting measurable outcomes.

I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their contributions here today. I also thank the ambassadors and representatives who came here today. We had a big representation from overseas on this issue. It has often been said at this committee that Irish people can be rightly proud of Ireland's aid programme, and I congratulate both Ministers on the attention that they succeeded in bringing to the fight against hunger at their review summit. It is clear there is strong, cross-party support for our aid programme, as well as widespread public support.

We also welcome the Minister's statement on maintaining the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid by 2015, notwithstanding our current difficult circumstances. This committee endorsed the findings of the hunger task force and will continue to support all efforts to highlight the scandal of hunger and malnutrition and the prioritisation of development aid as a cornerstone of Ireland's foreign policy. I note the drift involving the participation of Governments, businesses and civil society. We had a letter in from Gorta welcoming that development.

The joint committee went into private session at 11.05 a.m. and adjourned at 11.06 a.m. sine die.