The motion before the House is the first step in the procedure for establishing this committee. This is also the first occasion on which a Joint Committee of the Oireachtas has been established to consider Ireland's co-operation with developing countries and I take the opportunity to outline the background to this initiative.
Since 1973, Ireland's assistance to developing countries, known as Official Development Assistance (ODA), has risen substantially as a result of two events. The first was our entry to the European Community which involved us for the first time in the Community's programme of assistance to developing countries which was itself undergoing rapid expansion at the time. The First and Second Lomé Conventions with what are now 60 African, Caribbean and Pacific States, both of which were signed during Irish Presidencies of the Council of Ministers, are the central elements of the Community's extensive and, indeed, progressive programme of aid to developing countries. In 1980, the Community's total aid to developing countries will amount to more than £1 billion of which Ireland's contribution will be approximately £6.7 million. This makes our involvement in the Community's aid programme the single largest element of our Official Development Assistance Programme.
The other event that occurred was the establishment by the Government in 1974 of a bilateral aid programme. The Government recognised that, despite the economic and social problems that existed here, Ireland was still one of the wealthiest nations in the world in terms of income per head and this imposed on us an obligation to make some contribution to those countries which were immeasurably poorer and less developed than ourselves. A bilateral aid programme, it was felt, offered us an opportunity to make a direct and distinctively Irish contribution to development. In this way, the special skills that we in Ireland possess could be used to help other countries and peoples in a way that would complement and reinforce the tremendous and unstinting work done by Irish missionaries in developing countries over the years.
At the same time as the bilateral aid programme was introduced, the Agency for Personal Service Overseas was established to promote and sponsor personal service by Irish people in developing countries. As I have said, the traditional contribution to development by Ireland was her people, in the form of missionaries and lay volunteers, sponsored by the churches and the voluntary organisations engaged in development. It was felt that through APSO, official recognition and support could be given to this work. Since its inception, APSO has been funded entirely by my Department by way of a grant-in-aid under the Vote for International Co-operation. This year, APSO'S grant-in-aid will amount to £1 million. I am glad to acknowledge the work of Senator Whitaker, a member of this House, who was the first chairman of APSO and guided the organisation successfully through its formative years.
From the beginning, it was decided to concentrate the bilateral aid programme on a small number of target or priority countries. Given that Ireland could never hope to provide very large sums of money in absolute terms, it was felt that this method offered the best prospect of maximising the effectiveness of our aid. It would enable us to build up a coherent programme in full co-operation with the host countries. It would also enable the public here to see more easily the results of our efforts which would help to secure the necessary public support and encouragement for the programme.
The bilateral aid programme is now concentrated in four ‘priority countries' in Africa — Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia and Sudan — which between them receive more than 60 per cent of annual expenditure. The other major elements of the programme are the co-financing of development projects with Irish voluntary organisations, assistance for the education and training of students from developing countries and development education, of which I will say more later on.
From modest beginnings in 1974, the bilateral aid programme has expanded rapidly. Expenditure in the first year was £275,000 and this will rise to £5.15 million in 1981. Ireland also gives aid bilaterally in other ways besides the bilateral aid programme. I have already mentioned the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, which is funded entirely by the Government. In addition a provision is made for disaster relief, by which bilateral assistance is given in the immediate aftermath of a disaster such as famine, earthquake or war. A small grant is also given to Gorta towards its administrative expenses and the costs of the advisory council on development co-operation are met from development aid funds.
Taking all these areas together, total expenditure on bilateral aid this year will amount to over £6.5 million which makes this the second largest element of our ODA programme after the EEC contribution.
One of the features of the bilateral aid programme is the extent to which many State, semi-State and private bodies spanning all sections of the community are involved in its implementation. This has been deliberately encouraged in order to make the development effort as truly national as possible and to foster greater interest in and awareness of developing countries in the country as a whole. Many of the development projects financed under the bilateral aid programme are implemented by Irish State, semi-State and private bodies. Most of these projects are technical assistance projects since they involve mainly the provision of specialist skills accompanied in some cases by small amounts of capital aid. The choice of this type of project is both logical and sensible for a small country like Ireland which, as I have said, can never hope to be a major donor of capital aid. What we can offer are the skills and experience that we have gained in the course of our own development which, we should all remember, did not pre-date that of developing countries by very long.
From my own experience of developing countries, I am quite satisfied that this sort of assistance is in great demand and highly effective and this may go some way towards explaining the enthusiasm with which certain sectors in Ireland that are not directly concerned with developing countries — for example the higher education sector and the semi-State bodies — have become involved in our bilateral aid programme. Clearly, these bodies regard their co-operation with developing countries as both productive and rewarding. People who serve in developing countries come back to Ireland enriched by their experiences abroad and better able to serve the community to which they return.
If I have concentrated on bilateral aid so far, it is only because of our extensive involvement in this area at governmental and non-governmental level. But the field of development co-operation is a much broader one involving many complex and interrelated issues in the areas of food production, energy, commodities, trade, industrialisation, and finance. The European Community has repeatedly emphasised that co-operation between developed and developing countries and the intensification of international economic relations serve the interests of all countries. In an interdependent world, it is not simply a matter of increasing the flow of aid funds to developing countries, it is much more a question of integrating them as rapidly and as fully as possible into the global economic structure. Many of these issues have far reaching implications for our own domestic economic and social policies that must be faced up to. There are no easy solutions and, indeed, in some cases it is not entirely clear what the real problems are. But we must begin to look at the full range of development problems in a coherent and integrated manner. If we have learned anything from the Brandt Report it is that, in the long term, the problems of developing countries are also our problems and if we are to look forward to a world of peace and prosperity for all countries and peoples, we must start now to search for solutions to these problems.
The importance and the complexity of these issues make it both necessary and desirable that Members of the Oireachtas should consider them in greater detail than has been possible hitherto in debate in the Dáil and Seanad. For this reason the Government have decided to establish a Joint Committee of the Oireachtas to provide a forum for the comprehensive analysis and discussion of these matters.
The proposed terms of reference of the joint committee are set out in the motion before the House. The joint committee will cover all aspects of Ireland's relations with developing countries in the field of development co-operation including the Government's Official Development Assistance Programme. I would like to assure the House that both I and my Department will be anxious to give the joint committee every possible assistance in its work. I would propose to brief the joint committee personally from time to time and supplementary briefing material will be supplied by my Department as required.
I believe that this joint committee will make a very positive contribution to the formulation of Government policy in this field. There already exists the Advisory Council on Development Co-operation whose function is to advise the Government on all aspects of development co-operation. I would see the joint committee as complementing and reinforcing the work of the council by involving in this process the Members of the Oireachtas who are, after all, most directly concerned with the economic and social issues which are at stake here.
There is, however, another way in which I believe this joint committee can be of benefit and that is in the area of development education. I have already said that there is very extensive involvement in our bilateral aid programme on the part of many organisations and individuals in Ireland. There is also a great deal of public support for developing countries as evidenced by the very large and sustained financial support given to the voluntary organisations in this field. Despite this, however, a recent survey conducted by the Advisory Council on Development Co-operation revealed a widespread lack of awareness among Irish people both of the problems of developing countries and of the Government's response to these problems.
Clearly, therefore, there is an urgent need in Ireland for development education, the objectives of which are to increase public awareness of and interest in developing problems and to disseminate information on the Government's Official Development Assistance Programme. It is, I believe, of vital importance that public consciousness of development problems should be increased. As I have said already, many of these problems will have very direct repercussions here in Ireland in the future and we need to begin the process of educating people on the nature and extent of the problems involved and the ways in which we can help to solve them. We also need to inform the public of what is already being done by the Government on their behalf through the official development assistance programme. In this way, the necessary support and encouragement for its expansion will be generated.
The involvement of Members of the Oireachtas in the development education process is of fundamental importance since their attitudes and opinions have considerable influence on public opinion. If Members of the Oireachtas take a sepcial interest in the problems of developing countries, their lead will be followed by others, which will result in a greater level of awareness of these issues among the public.
I believe that the joint committee, by focusing attention on this area, will have a very considerable impact on the formation of public opinion and, in this way, will greatly increase Ireland's contribution to development co-operation.
In establishing this joint committee, the Government are seeking to build on the foundation of Ireland's co-operation with developing countries which has been laid by generations of missionaries and lay workers and by successive governments, particularly since 1973. Ireland's reputation as a friend of developing countries is very high. Our history has much in common with many of them and the development problems which we ourselves encountered not so long ago are similar to the ones which they are facing at present. The goodwill that these countries have for us imposes an even greater responsibility on us to contribute to their development from our own resources and to use our good offices and influence to encourage the adoption of global policies that will lead to a more equitable sharing of resources. I believe that the joint committee will have a vital and integral role to play in this process so that Ireland's contribution to development will fully live up to the expectations that exist both at home and abroad.