Development Co-operation Objectives of Irish Presidency: Statements.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss the development co-operation objectives of the Irish Presidency. We have had the privilege of leading the EU during an exciting and historic time. The beginning of this month saw the enlargement of the European Union to 25 member states in the largest enlargement process in the Union's history. The Presidency also hopes to reach agreement on a new constitutional treaty for Europe by June. Once the treaty is ratified, it will provide a new legal basis for external action. Among other things, the new treaty will confirm the importance of development co-operation as an instrument of the EU's external action policy. This year will also see the election of a new European Parliament and a Commission as well as a reorganisation of Commission structures. We will also be considering the future financing of the Union in the period after 2006.

I will return to these issues later. First, I wish to provide Members with an overview of the importance of EU development co-operation, the objectives we set for the Irish Presidency's programme in this area and the actions we have been taking to ensure these objectives are realised. The EU already provides more than half of all international development aid and its member states constitute the world's largest donor of development assistance. At the international conference on financing for development in Monterrey in 2002, the EU made further commitments to spending an average of 0.39% of GDP on official development assistance by 2006 and at least 0.33% of GDP on the part of each member state. According to a recent Commission report, the EU is on track to meet this commitment which will greatly increase the resources available from the Union to help the world's poorest people.

At the start of its Presidency term, Ireland set out three priority areas in its development co-operation agenda. These are the eradication of poverty, addressing the HIV-AIDS pandemic and co-operation with Africa. I will detail for the House the manner in which the Irish Presidency has worked to make progress in these areas. Our first major opportunity to promote the priority of poverty eradication came at the Council's orientation debate on the effectiveness of EU external action, which was held in Brussels on 27 January. This annual Council debate aims to review progress made in combining the various strands of external policy and to set out goals for the future. The Irish Presidency succeeded in securing for the first time Council conclusions from the debate. In particular, the conclusions invited the Commission to come forward with proposals on extending the use of resource allocation criteria based on need and performance to all EU external assistance programmes. A further important conclusion affirmed that the achievement of the millennium development goals should be a key focus of EU policies and its financing decisions. These Council conclusions have strengthened the poverty reduction objective of the EU's development policy and signalled a need for a greater overall coherence in EU external policy.

Since the abolition of the Development Council at the Seville Summit in 2002, a part of the General Affairs Council meeting is given over twice yearly to consideration of a cluster of development items. The most recent consideration of a development cluster took place at the April meeting of the Council. Poverty reduction was again the central theme of this Council discussion, which I chaired. Foremost on the agenda was an assessment of the implementation of the eight commitments made by member states in preparation for the 2002 Monterrey conference on international financing for development, particularly in the area of aid volumes and the harmonisation of aid practices. The Council noted the Union was on track to exceed its commitment to achieve the collective target for increasing the volume of ODA by 2006 and underlined the importance of increasing ODA volumes to meet the millennium development goals, MDGs. The Council also agreed on the need to take further concrete steps to improve donor co-ordination and harmonisation.

In tandem with the assessment of the Monterrey commitments, the Council agreed to an Irish Presidency initiative to give the Commission a mandate to co-ordinate an EU input to the 2005 review of the millennium development goals. In this way, the EU intends to give a lead in international stocktaking of the MDGs and to push this vital exercise to the top of the international agenda. Effectively, Ireland has made a significant contribution to the UN review of the millennium development goals.

The Council also discussed the issue of commodity dependence and endorsed an ambitious proposal for an EU action plan on agricultural commodity chains, dependence and poverty. It further endorsed a specific proposal for an EU-Africa partnership in support of cotton sector development. This will involve EU efforts to obtain fairer international trade conditions in the cotton sector and specific measures to support cotton producing countries in Africa.

We also gave the Commission a mandate to negotiate some changes to the Cotonou Agreement with the Africa Caribbean Pacific, ACP, countries, the purpose of which is to make the Cotonou Agreement work more effectively to reduce poverty in what are some of the world's poorest countries. Negotiations with the ACP side officially commenced at the ACP-EC Council of Ministers meeting which I co-chaired in Botswana last Thursday and Friday.

An issue which arose at the Council meeting was the extent to which co-operation in the search for materials which can be used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, WMD, should be covered by the revised Cotonou Agreement. The Council decided last November that this aspect should be included in all agreements with third countries. I am glad to say that despite initial opposition from many member states which wished this matter to be considered an essential element, I was able to secure a consensus on a mandate for the Commission in these negotiations which acknowledges the WMD dimension but does not make it an essential part of the amended agreements.

The April General Affairs and External Relations Council was a high point of our Presidency work programme but the work does not stop there. I will host a meeting of EU development co-operation Ministers in Dublin on 1 June. This informal gathering will be the first meeting of development co-operation Ministers of the enlarged Union and will give Ministers a chance to discuss the key strategic challenges facing the EU's development co-operation policy during the next period.

The second priority of our Irish Presidency programme is the HIV-AIDS pandemic. We are aware of the devastating impact of HIV-AIDS which is undermining economic growth, breaking down social structures, threatening food security and, limiting recovery from conflict. HIV-AIDS has created more than 14 million orphans who are vulnerable to exploitation and exposure. Quite simply, AIDS is becoming the single biggest obstacle to the goal of poverty reduction.

HIV-AIDS has been a priority for Development Co-operation Ireland for many years now. During the past three years, DCI has increased ten-fold the funds it commits to HIV-AIDS to a budget allocation of €40 million in 2004. Ireland is also an active supporter and advocate of the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and, the international AIDS vaccine initiative. On 23-24 February, I hosted an international ministerial conference on HIV-AIDS in Dublin entitled Breaking the Barriers: Partnerships to fight HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia. The conference brought together representatives from 55 countries and a number of UN agencies to agree collective action in the fight against HIV-AIDS in the region. The Dublin declaration issued from this conference sets out a detailed plan of action with specific targets and timeframes for fighting HIV-AIDS in the region. It focuses on the need for increased political leadership and vision to stem the tide of this pandemic and the need to strengthen partnerships between government, civil society and the private sector to enhance our collective response to HIV-AIDS. We also agreed that preventing the spread of HIV-AIDS must continue to be high on our agenda and agreed to continue our efforts to provide support for those who are HIV positive with access to life saving medicines and appropriate health care.

On 22 April, Ireland hosted a seminar on good governance for an effective response to HIV-AIDS in Africa at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. The aim of this seminar was to provide an opportunity for European and African parliamentarians to discuss issues related to governance and HIV-AIDS with the intention of mobilising political commitment in the struggle against HIV-AIDS and fostering new forms of co-operation and partnership in addressing this threat. More than one hundred representatives from the EU member states, our partner countries in Africa and members of civil society attended this important seminar, including Mrs. Mary Robinson, who gave the closing address.

Finally, we will host a third meeting in Dublin in June on current research and new preventative technologies in the fight against HIV-AIDS. The aim of this meeting is to place vaccine and microbicide development in the context of ongoing responses to HIV-AIDS and the evolving international health and development agenda. We will seek a reaffirmation of current commitments espoused in the UNGASS declaration of commitment and the European Council resolutions on vaccines and microbicides. We further hope for the adoption of an agenda that can be carried through the succeeding Presidencies of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the UK. Those who have heard me speak on this issue are aware of my determination that we develop a long-term strategy. We are fortunate in that we are being followed by like-minded countries. The new approach of the European Union is to have not just a six months approach to dealing with issues of this magnitude but to have a long-term agenda that can be passed on. That is an important point.

The third priority area for development co-operation agenda is Africa. Clearly, the issues facing Africa, extreme poverty, conflict, the high prevalence of HIV-AIDS among others, are closely linked to our development priorities. I have already dealt with our achievements in the areas of poverty eradication and HIV-AIDS and will now touch on some specific aspects of the EU's relationship with Africa, and on progress made by the Presidency in this critical area.

Two important meetings between the EU and the ACP states have already taken place during our Presidency. I represented the Union at the ACP-EU joint parliamentary assembly meeting in Addis Ababa from 16 to 19 February, at which we discussed topics such as economic partnership agreements, conflict prevention and poverty diseases. I also co-chaired the ACP-EU ministerial meeting held in Gaborone, Botswana, last week. In Botswana, we officially launched negotiations to review some parts of the Cotonou Agreement. This review is intended to make the ACP-EC partnership work more effectively and will, therefore, help to reduce poverty in the ACP states. We also took the important decision to set up a water facility for Africa. The water facility will provide millions of people with access to clean water and sanitation. It is an important step forward on the road towards meeting our commitments to the millennium development goals, MDGs, and those made at Johannesburg.

At the ministerial meeting, we also had a particularly productive session devoted to HIV-AIDS. In this debate, Ministers from the EU and the ACP states were joined by representatives of civil society, international organisations and non-State actors to discuss new forms of co-operation and ways to tackle the growing crisis. The success of these meetings highlights the importance of constructive dialogue with our African partners.

I will now deal with trade and debt, an issue on which I have spoken in this House on a number of occasions. The integration of the economies of developing countries into the world economy is key to their development. In January last, at the beginning of Ireland's Presidency, the EU Council committed the Union to taking the lead in getting the Doha process back on track following the breakdown at Cancun. The EU Council further concluded that priority should be given to the achievement of real benefits in the short term for the poorest countries through rapid progress on issues of importance to them. The recent April EU Council conclusions on commodities and, in particular, cotton, represent an important response to this particular commitment.

The EU is currently involved in establishing economic partnership agreements, EPAs, with the ACP countries. EPAs are trade and economic agreements intended to help integrate ACP countries into the world economy and will be based on the principle of sustainable development and poverty reduction. At the ACP-EU ministerial meeting in Botswana, I underlined that EPAs are above all a development instrument intended to maintain and improve the current level of preferential market access for ACP countries into the EC.

The unsustainable levels of external debt servicing in many African countries is another huge impediment to poverty reduction in Africa. EU member states have provided significant relief of bilateral debt owed by developing countries and have also financed the relief of multilateral debt through the heavily indebted poor countries trust fund, HIPC, and through separate initiatives. However, further initiatives will be necessary, including measures that address the way loan financing of development is administered and how this impacts on debt sustainability. Under the Irish Presidency's leadership we have achieved significant agreement on ways to increase co-operation between the European Union and Africa on the issue of debt. Many people, including our NGOs, have spoken about the unsustainable levels of debt suffered by some African countries. We have made progress on this issue during the Presidency.

Having discussed the actions undertaken by the Irish Presidency in the area of development co-operation, I now place these events in the wider context of a changing EU. The first opportunity to help shape the future of EU development policy will be agreement on the new EU constitution, which we hope can be reached in the summer. During the drafting phase of the new constitutional treaty, I joined six of my EU development co-operation ministerial colleagues in submitting a joint position paper to the Convention on the Future of Europe. I am pleased to note that poverty eradication is now defined in the draft Treaty as an objective of the Union, and especially of its external policies. Humanitarian assistance has also been given treaty status for the first time. Moreover, the existing principle of coherence of EU policies as these affect developing countries has been maintained in the final text of the draft constitution. By enhancing the role of development co-operation in EU external assistance, the new constitution will provide a sound footing on which to pursue the development policy objectives of an enlarged Union in the years ahead.

The European Commission recently published its communication on the future financial perspective. This will govern the structure of the EC expenditure until 2013. In the proposal the Commission challenges member states and the European Parliament by suggesting some very radical changes to the existing budget structure. For example, the Commission proposes to simplify the architecture of the budget, reducing the number of instruments. The effectiveness of the new instruments would be measured against agreed benchmarks, drawn from main policy objectives. The external relations budget structure would effectively be reduced to six instruments from over 100 and this is something which we very much welcome.

With regard to external action, the financial perspective negotiations must ensure that EC development resources target those in most need. EC resources should be allocated effectively, perhaps through a methodology of the type used in the European Development Fund. This would ensure that resources were allocated according to the levels of poverty in partner countries and the likelihood of absorption. This is not to say that we do not recognise the importance of development in the better off middle income countries but we believe there is scope to explore the need for different instruments, such as more EU concessional lending supplanting grants in some countries. This could release grant resources to those countries which cannot afford loans and have larger financing needs.

Central to the discussion on the new financial perspective is the debate over the new structure of the Commission. We will need to agree how to optimise the Commission's effectiveness and to take into account the impact of enlargement. The details need to be discussed further, of course, but it is imperative to ensure that we create political and institutional space for development co-operation in the new EU structure. This means the commissioner responsible for development must be able to provide a strong voice for development co-operation and poverty reduction in discussions on all EU external policies. From a development perspective, we see merit in considering management of the entire programme cycle by one body. This would mean policy, programming, design, implementation and evaluation all under one roof. Continued reform of EC aid delivery is essential, including further decentralisation of decision making to the field. In the new European Parliament, the development committee should play an important role as guardian of developing countries' interests in its interactions within the Union.

It is an incredible achievement to have completed the expansion of the Union to 25 member states. The arrival of ten new member states with different historical, political and economic realities from the existing 15 will impact on the EU's relations with the outside world. This will include influencing the content and future direction of the Union's development policy. This is a great opportunity. The new member states, as former aid recipients, probably have as much to say about the effectiveness of EU aid as a current member. We would encourage our new colleagues to engage in debates on further reform which can make the European Union a more effective player, indeed a leader, in the field of international development co-operation. We would also encourage the accession states to help us reinforce the role of the November 2000 EU development policy in the EU's external policies. Like others in Europe, we also recognise concerns about ensuring stability in the enlarged Europe. This will be of particular concern to our new partners and we must address this instability. However, these concerns must not and should not undermine wider poverty objectives.

These processes will set the framework for EU co-operation for the next few years. We must get the outcomes right if the European Union is to contribute fully to international efforts to meet the millennium development goals. We are aware not only of the opportunities these processes offer but also the risks involved if we ignore the importance of poverty reduction as a central objective.

The European Union, as one of the most significant international players in the area of development assistance, has both a responsibility to help relieve the suffering caused by poverty and the means to promote poverty eradication at a global level. I see a future for EU development which would involve rising levels of official development assistance, with a greater share going to the poorest countries where it can have most impact, and supported by a set of coherent EU policies. We must ensure that the new enlarged European Union is a strong and effective player in international fora and is capable of facilitating dialogue on key issues on the global economic and social agenda. Our achievements during the Irish Presidency so far have made a solid contribution towards reaching this goal and have laid a lasting foundation for those who will follow us.

I thank the Acting Chairman. The position suits him rather well.

Thank you, Senator. Do I add gravitas to the post?

This may be a vision of things to come.

The Minister of State is welcome to the House. As we move towards the concluding weeks of the Irish Presidency of the EU, it is appropriate that we reflect on the efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and of the Minister of State to make progress on the important issue of international aid and development. It is good that Ireland is leading the way to progress in this regard across the European Union. Nevertheless we must recognise that we have a long way to go.

We are told that the poor will always be with us. In Ireland, through various social and political measures, we have made tremendous progress in the past ten years and our Celtic tiger economy has proved that the poor need not always be with us. Working in conjunction with the European Union, we must now try to do the same on an international stage. We must show that world poverty, famine and debt need not always be with us. This will require concentrated political effort and leadership. I recognise what the Minister of State has been trying to do but he is a prisoner of his Department and his Department is a prisoner of the Department of Finance. There will always be a limited amount of money available but we must keep the priority of international aid and development at the top of our agenda.

With the enlargement of Europe we approach a time when Europe must play an even greater role in the world. The record of the European Union on overseas aid and development is very positive. Of the international community, the EU gives the highest share of its resources as overseas and development aid, apart from Japan. This should continue and Europe must show that its external policy is one of support for poor countries, particularly the countries of southern Africa. There is a political duty to demonstrate that, whereas some global powers seem to pursue expansionist international policies, the priorities of European external policy is one of building alliances, and working with poorer countries to turn around economies and to tackle problems of debt relief and AIDS. If such issues are placed at the top of the European political agenda it will demonstrate that the EU is a union of countries who seek to build a secure, debt free and disease free world.

The Minister of State mentioned current priorities. I welcome the idea of economic partnership agreements. To have Europe working together with other countries, most particularly in southern Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean, is the way to progress. I welcome the Minister's emphasis on the issues of trade and particularly debt. Sadly, most people have no interest in the debt issue. If asked, many who do take an interest would think Bono to be the person with the most influence on debt matters, rather than governments or politicians. While Bono has done tremendous work in highlighting the problem, politicians and governments must lead the way.

In the remaining few weeks of the Irish EU Presidency, debt relief should be at the top of the agenda of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is financially impossible for the poorer countries of the world to pay their debts while, at the same time, developing their economies and dealing with huge social problems. It is a question of priority and we must advocate the maximum possible amount of debt relief and debt write-off. In the 1970s and 1980s, Ireland knew the problems of excessive debt. While, on a global scale, our problems were very small, it took us almost 20 years to get out of financial distress. Some emerging countries, in Africa in particular, have no chance of progressing unless we make major progress on debt relief. It is important the Minister keeps this issue at the top of his agenda.

The Minister of State referred to plans being put in place at present which will hopefully be continued by the next holders of the EU Presidency, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the UK. There must be a coherent, long-term European strategy which should flow from one Presidency to the next. The record of the Netherlands on development issues has been very positive and I trust it will build on Irish policies. The new Union of 25 countries must speak with one voice on these issues. The picture which should be painted of Europe is of a continent which may be a superpower in one sense, but one which will use its wealth, resources and political influence in the most positive fashion internationally.

The Irish EU Presidency ends in a few weeks but the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue the Irish development aid effort. A worry in this regard relates to funding. The Taoiseach announced almost four years ago that Ireland would meet the United Nations target for overseas aid spending by 2007. This commitment was to bring the aid total up to 0.7% of GNP. The Government received much international recognition for this very welcome announcement, which painted a picture of Ireland leading the way on development aid. Unfortunately, however, Irish funding has halted at 0.41% of GNP. I accept the Minister made the case for further funding during the Estimates process last year but this does not seem to have been accepted by the Department of Finance. If Ireland wishes to push the European project along a certain route in regard to international aid and development, we must lead by example and move towards the target of 0.7%. If not, the Taoiseach will have broken the promise made to the United Nations on behalf of the Irish people.

The Minister referred to our commitment to the achievement of the United Nations millennium development goals, due to be implemented by 2015. Fine Gael fully supports the achievement of these goals, which commit not just Ireland but Europe and the international community to a vision of development which promotes human rights and human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress. The goals are challenging but at the same time essential. They include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, the reduction of child mortality, the improvement of maternal health, the battle against HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and the development of global partnerships for development. While it is a substantial jigsaw of work, if all the pieces are not put in place, we will not have the fair and equal world which all people deserve.

If Europe is to take a leadership role in achieving the millennium development goals, international development aid must reach $100 billion per annum. Europe is a long way from achieving this target and Ireland's financial contribution can only be a drop in the ocean when compared to it. Nonetheless, we have given a commitment to increase our rate of aid to 0.7% and should not be stuck at 0.41%.

Over the coming months, the Minister and his colleagues will be involved in Estimates debates and battles. The battle last year was lost by the Department of Foreign Affairs when the purse strings were held tightly by the Minister for Finance. The House must call on the Minister for Finance to loosen them this year so that the Government can progress towards achieving the commitment the Taoiseach gave to the United Nations on behalf of the Irish people that we would play our full role in regard to international development. It is the least we can expect.

I congratulate the Minister of State on what he is trying to do on the European stage. The policies of the expanded European Union have credibility and, if implemented in full, will ensure that Europe will play a leading role in the effort to bring fairness to humanity. However, those goals cannot be achieved without resources.It is a complex problem but through the Presidency we have shown political leadership internationally. Nevertheless, we must now demonstrate at home that we will put our money where our mouth is. The key issue for the Minister of State and the Government is the next Estimates round and the budget in respect of which there must be progress if we are to move from 0.41% of GNP to 0.7%. Once again, I appeal to the Minister of State to use whatever powers and arguments he has in the Department to impress upon the Minister for Foreign Affairs and, through him, the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach that we must put in place the extra resources to fulfil our own commitments.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House again. One of the triumphs of the Government has been the appointment of two Ministers of State who seem to enjoy their briefs and know something about them, namely, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche. I compliment the Minister of State on his dedication to and interest in his brief. I am sure all Ministers have those attributes, but the Minister of State seems to have a particular aptitude for this area.

The Irish Presidency of the EU has been a successful venture so far for the Government. This is perhaps one of the last Presidencies which will be run in this manner and it was important for Ireland that it was conducted in a professional manner and that our millennium development goals proceeded. The Presidency set out a number of goals and objectives in various areas of endeavour, not least the goal of trying to bring a conclusion to an agreement on the final text of the constitutional treaty to which the Minister of State referred.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that poverty eradication is now defined in the draft treaty as an objective of the EU and, furthermore, humanitarian assistance has also been given treaty status for the first time. These are just sentences in the middle of the Minister of State's speech but their import is huge. It is extraordinarily important that a constitution for a body of more than 400 million people should recognise these issues and put them into a treaty which I hope will be adopted.

One of the main themes of EU development assistance is the eradication of poverty. This is aspirational because, as we know, it is very difficult to eradicate poverty. The good book states: "The poor — they are always with us." However, if one does not aspire, one cannot succeed. The aspiration is worthwhile pursuing and is an ongoing process. For example, the EU development Ministers will meet in Dublin on 1 June. For the first time there will be 25 Ministers which will no doubt mark a new beginning for the development co-operation programme and policy. I look forward to the outcomes of these meetings.

It is important that the EU speaks with one voice and develops a coherent approach to the provision of assistance to developing countries. The objective is not just to have a policy in place but to ensure that aid earmarked for a particular country is delivered in an effective manner. Too often in the past, as I am sure the Minister of State is well aware, we have seen massive aid packages siphoned off by unscrupulous rulers and not reaching those for whom it was intended, namely, those in need. I think particularly of former President Mengistu of Ethiopia who siphoned off $100 million of European aid. At the time, we debated the issue in this House, which helped to contribute to his demise in even a small way. Sometimes one might think that there is no effective outcome from our discussions in this House. However, that is not true. We witnessed this in regard to East Timor.

The problem of HIV and AIDS has reached pandemic proportions in Africa and the problem does not help long-term development. The Minister of State mentioned a figure of 14 million orphans. This figure was thrown out but one must think about it. So many people are dying needlessly from this terrible epidemic. The EU has a major role to play in combating this problem and in that context, we earmarked €40 million in 2004. Educational programmes must be put in place to counteract some of the frightening misinformation about the spread of AIDS in Africa, based on beliefs of how people can and cannot contract the disease. Such misinformation is incredible and we must have educational programmes to counteract it as well as the other necessary programmes. I refer to the education issue particularly because it is one we must pursue.

The Minister of State referred to the important international ministerial conference which he chaired in February. Present at the conference were 55 countries as well as UN agencies who debated a plan of action which, I believe, is called the Dublin declaration and which sets out targets and timeframes. Every one of these conferences gets people to meet one another and leads to some progress being made. Bit by bit, inexorably, we move towards solving the problems we have set out to resolve.

EU-Africa relations are very important and we have a duty to help. If the money spent on arms was spent on humanitarian causes, people throughout the world would have a much better life. The General Affairs and External Relations Council held an orientation debate in Brussels in January which involved the Council examining the effect of the delivery of EU external assistance. There is a need to harmonise the EU's development policy with its external policy. All these aspects must work together, otherwise agencies will go off on tangents in their activities.

Many meetings and conferences have taken place in recent times. The most recent, which was held on 25 and 26 March, was about international humanitarian law and principles in which Irish officials joined with the Humanitarian Aid Office of the European Commission. There were also representatives from the other member states, from humanitarian agencies, civil defence groups and so on. Also represented were the European Commission, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Irish Red Cross, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Voluntary Organisations in Co-operation in Emergencies, which aptly uses the acronym VOICE, and the Overseas Development Institute. The conference discussed issues such as humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence and non-discrimination.

We seem to be disbursing a limited amount of funds on an increasingly wider scale, for example, to the Caribbean and so on. However, we should concentrate our efforts in Africa and particularly on the problem of HIV and AIDS. The tragic loss of human life in Africa is incredible as are the famines and starvation. We should support the efforts made by South Africa in particular in consolidating the economic and social foundations of its transition process. We must also promote regional co-operation and economic integration in South Africa. We must promote the expansion and reciprocal liberalisation of mutual trade in goods, services and capital and we must deepen our dialogue with Africa.

Just think of the recent trouble spots in Africa — Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, northern Uganda, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire. We should think of the upheavals involved, the massacres and human rights abuses, when an entire Continent is engulfed by poverty, massacres and a HIV/AIDS pandemic. This continent is full of beautiful and intelligent people who are very friendly for the most part. They need a helping hand and, as we are next door to them, we should give it. I am not saying we should not help other countries but we cannot do everything.

A wide-ranging approach is needed, not just in the provision of aid. We must harmonise that with the provision of security, defence, trade and education. The Minister of State mentioned commodity dependence, which is also very important. That occurred when the Soviet Union broke down — commodity dependence existed where state produced one commodity and so on, but when the Soviet Union broke up the whole system collapsed.

The Minister of State also mentioned debt. Billions of dollars were loaned to South American countries which could never pay back those loans and which ended up in debt to the IMF or the World Bank. The US then moved in with trade agreements to benefit from that situation. I would hate the EU to act in that way. We can do better than that by providing a genuine aid package. We have much to offer. However, the Minister of State should say in the appropriate fora that we cannot take in the entire world. Africa lies just below Europe, we have close ties with it and it is one of the places with the most needs and enduring the worst suffering. There is huge poverty in India and South America but I have been all over South America and although there is poverty, people can eat and they do not die of poverty in the street. It is important to remember that point. There is huge poverty among the Mayan people of Mexico but they eat every day and medical services are available to them. However, that is not the case in many African countries, where we can do something about the tragic loss of life.

I agree totally. We are mainly focused on poorer countries and we will maintain that policy.

I am glad the Minister of State agrees with me.

I wish to share my time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State and I agree with Senator Lydon. It is great to see the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, attacking his brief with such enthusiasm and I was very interested in his comprehensive speech.

I am glad the EU is on track with its commitments to developing countries and I agree with Senator Lydon that we must concentrate on certain countries. I share his interest in the African countries, which are our priority. However, as Senator Bradford said, I hope the Minister for Finance also knows of our commitment to providing 0.7% of our GDP in aid by 2007. Whenever I have met Africans, in Africa and elsewhere, there is constant praise for what we are about to do and it would be terrible if people were disappointed. I hope at Government meetings the Minister for Finance is well briefed on this, as we will have to put on a bit of a spurt to make that level of contribution by 2007.

Poverty reduction is incredibly important, as the Minister of State said, and it is good that the position of cotton producers in Africa is being tackled by the EU. However, we do not produce much cotton. I was not encouraged by the response of Irish farmers to Commissioner Fischler's announcement that aid to farmers in the EU would have to be examined seriously and that we would have to be ready to compete properly on the world stage. For example, there is an outrageous situation with sugar. If sugar was marketed as it should be, we would be able to buy it for 6 cent a kilogram here, rather than 25 cent a kilogram. We have advantages in that we are subsidising goods like sugar and beef to an enormous extent. I know we have a problem in that the US is paying subsidies to farmers but perhaps the EU could lead the way on this issue. It is fine to encourage improvements in global trade for commodities but one would like to feel we were not just doing so with commodities which do not affect the EU.

I am glad donor co-operation is improving and I saw that for myself in Ethiopia. We do not have to stand behind the national flag as we are very good at co-operating with other small countries on projects. I am also glad that dialogue with our partners is becoming more important. They have some very good ideas at times about how money should be spent and which programmes should be promoted.

The impact of AIDS in Africa is appalling. Deputy Burton told me that when she made a private visit recently to parts of South Africa and Tanzania where she worked in the 1980s she was horrified to see a huge increase in the number of families headed by children, as even their aunts, uncles and grandparents were dead. The social effects of that are absolutely dreadful.

It is important to remember that the most important cause of poverty in Africa is still conflict. When we see what is happening in the Sudan, northern Uganda and many other places, efforts to resolve conflict in those areas must be redoubled. I find I have to listen to the BBC World Service to find out what our troops are doing with the UN and I hear the highest praise for them. The Minister of State said we must be careful about what is happening on the edges of Europe. The other night I heard the BBC World Service describe 100 Irish peacekeepers holding the line with some very reluctant support from another country which I will not name. The praise for those 100 men was incredible but I heard little about them here. We hear nothing about what our soldiers have done in Liberia, which has been nothing short of unbelievable. They had to take on heavily armed child soldiers who were high on drugs and influenced by voodoo. Those conflicts cause more poverty than many other issues on which we concentrate.

The Minister of State also spoke of concentrating on the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being made in developing countries, which is very serious. We know that many countries have the capability to do that and there is very little regulation of the area.

The Minister of State said we are to have new financial perspectives and that the European Development Fund is to be simplified, which is a very good idea. However, he should note that whoever is made commissioner for development should be able to provide a strong voice for development co-operation and poverty reduction in all discussions of EU external policies.

Whoever is appointed as commissioner should come from a country with a strong tradition of giving development aid. We do not need a neophyte in this area because one has to fight one's corner in the European Union.

I appreciate that Senator Henry has allowed me to share her time. I wish to raise two points, one of which was referred to by Senator Lydon, namely, the siphoning off of aid meant for different purposes. In an interesting article inThe Economist last week, US Congressman Christopher Shays, who chairs the US Government reform committee, expressed the view that the UN food for aid programme, worth $67 billion over the years, could become the biggest scandal ever. Given what has been happening with the programme and the possibility that it may be directed to our aid programme, will it be possible to ensure we avoid some of the scandals referred to? Mr. Chalabi, a member of the American-appointed Iraqi governing committee, has also described it as the biggest political scandal in history. The oil for food programme was abused by Saddam Hussein. Huge sums of money were given to a large number of dictators and other countries, many of which were genuine beneficiaries. However, there is even a suggestion that politically motivated people who had gained well from this in France and Russia were able to influence the French and Russian governments not to join in the war in Iraq. I do not know how much truth there is in this, but these kinds of scandal damage the reputation of those who are trying give money to help those requiring help, money that is being siphoned off elsewhere.

I am impressed by the Minister of State. Since I have known him, he has been strongly committed to this area. He referred to the commodity dependence in Africa. Given that Ireland holds the EU Presidency, we must do something to ensure we get back on track the thinking in regard to subsidies and what we do for these nations. It involves the United States and the farming supports we give in Europe. Senator Henry referred to the price of sugar. I could give many examples of the prices being paid or not being paid in Africa to the producers of food. Oxfam had a wonderful quote: "If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; if you teach him to fish you feed him for life." It is a lovely idea and it should be repeated by all involved in this area.

It is not enough to give help, food or aid to theses countries if at the same time we are putting up barriers in Europe to ensure they cannot export to us the products they produce much more efficiently and at a much lower price than we can do. Let us make sure we use the little time we have and the strong voice of the Minister of State to influence in any way we can the ability to change that attitude so that in the years ahead the people of Africa will look back and say that rather than give handouts, Europe was able to do something to help them in the long term.

I wish to share my time with Senator Mooney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his grasp of this brief for which he has a natural aptitude. That is clear from his speech, which is one I will read again because I am not well informed as to the amount of work on overseas development aid being done on our behalf by the Minister of State. Perhaps we should become more aware of the contribution Ireland is making towards the eradication of poverty and combating HIV-AIDS in these countries.

This debate is timely because the forthcoming elections will lead to the creation of a new European Parliament and Commission. During the Irish Presidency the objectives of overseas development aid were to be looked at to ascertain their effectiveness and whether there is value for money in terms of how it is spent in the recipient countries. The Commission has been invited to monitor this area and to take a leadership role on the millennium goals. My level of knowledge of these goals was so lacking I had to undertake some research.

The purpose of the millennium goals is to eradicate poverty and hunger, to give better overall global primary education, to reduce child mortality, to aim for gender equality, to improve material health, to combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other such diseases, to create an environment to help the production of resources and to develop a global partnership, in other words, co-operation between all member states for development aid. These objectives were set out in 2002. How have we developed them and how effective has implementation been in these countries? The Irish Presidency has highlighted areas that should be looked at and has called on the EU to question the effectiveness of these objectives. We hope to have a review of them by 2005. It is an area in which I will become more interested given the work done by the Minister of State at conferences and meetings throughout Europe to highlight and implement these objectives.

The Minister of State outlined his work programme for dealing with African-Caribbean and other states in regard to economic partnership agreements. That is very important, especially given that issues such as conflict, peace building, and trade were discussed under these agreements. It re-emphasises the Government's commitment, as part of the Irish Presidency, to reducing the debt burden of the developing world.

I would like to have attended the conference in Dublin on breaking the barriers in the area of AIDS in Europe and central Asia and how best to make progress among governments, NGOs and the United Nations. Sometimes there is a perception that the aid Ireland and other countries give to developing countries is not going to the right places and that, perhaps, those implementing the programmes are not getting value for money. I ask the Minister of State to look at that issue with a view to closing the gap between what we are doing and what will be the external policy after the draft constitution becomes the new treaty for Europe. I congratulate the Minister of State on the work he has done and wish him well with the eradication of poverty and the combating of AIDS.

Like my colleagues, I welcome the Minister of State and commend him on his outstanding record in representing Ireland at EU level during the Presidency. The UN regards the situation in Darfur in Sudan as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. It states that at least $140 million is required for a massive and immediate humanitarian response. Apart from the 1 million people displaced within Sudan a further 2 million people are thought to be affected by the year old conflict which has interfered with the planting of crops, reduced access to markets and basic services and left civilians vulnerable to violent attack. Thousands of homes have been destroyed along with the crops and livestock people need in order to survive.

The extent of the crisis is both disputed and difficult to ascertain, given the extremely constrained access. It is estimated that more than 700,000 people have fled to urban centres in Darfur and there has been further displacement to other parts of Sudan including Khartoum. A further 135,000 refugees are in Chad which borders Darfur. Thousands have died as a direct result of violence and many more as a result of conflict-related disease.

Humanitarian response and access to Darfur is extremely limited primarily because of insecurity and government restrictions on travel. The government has restricted relief activities to urban centres and internally displaced persons' camps in areas under its control. According to an AFP report published in theSudan Tribune of 11 May, the Government of Sudan is deliberately starving civilians in at least one town in the troubled western Darfur region. This is the basis of a UN report which has not yet been published but which states that numerous testimonies substantiated by observations on the ground allude to a strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation being enforced by the Government of Sudan and its security forces. Eight or nine children are dying every day in Kailek, a village in Darfur, because of malnutrition. The report makes several references to the total destruction by government forces and allied Janjaweed militia of 23 local villages populated by the Fur ethnic group and stressed that nearby Arab settlements have remained untouched. It describes these actions as a campaign to cleanse a large area of its Fur population, echoing allegations of ethnic cleansing made in recent weeks by senior UN officials. The report also describes sanitary, shelter and medical conditions in Kailek as appalling, deplorable, inhumane and unfit for any human habitation. The report accuses the Government of Sudan of deliberately deceiving the United Nations by repeatedly refuting claims about the seriousness of the situation in Kailek. It has actively resisted the need for intervention by preventing UN access to the area.

I have outlined that appalling sequence of tragedy that has befallen the people of a part of the Sudan which seems to be almost forgotten. I plead with the Minister of State, in his capacity as the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development but also as the representative of the EU Presidency, to take urgent action to highlight the abuses that are systemic and are being organised by proxy by the Sudanese Government. The Minister of State will be aware that it attempted to divert a resolution of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva recently in order to water it down. I also accuse the other African states which, for reasons perhaps to do with history or colonial legacy, do not wish to be seen to criticise a brother nation. It is time they lived up to their responsibilities in this regard because this will become another Rwanda.

The largest amount of Ireland's overseas aid is donated to Uganda. The Minister of State will be aware of the criticisms consistently levelled at the Ugandan Government by John O'Shea of GOAL. Uganda is deeply involved in the carnage and plunder in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been responsible for the deaths of between 3 and 5 million people since 1998.

Why does the Government fly in the face of such overwhelming evidence that Uganda is corrupt and engaged in large-scale violence and theft in a third county and continue to place so much trust in it? Does Ireland Aid really believe that government to government aid gives better value for money and, if so, why does it not give all its overseas development aid in the form of bilateral aid? Development Ireland is the new title for Ireland Aid. Would Development Ireland officials use the services of a Development Ireland-funded hospital in Uganda if they fell ill while in that country? Why does Development Ireland not attach strict criteria to bilateral aid donations which should include issues such as good governance, accountability, good human rights records and non-tolerance of corruption? The questions continue for two more pages and I presume the Minister of State has received this document from John O'Shea.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The committee and the Minister of State met a group of senior Ugandan Ministers at the end of August last year. A charm offensive was launched by the Ugandan Government to ensure that €30 million of Irish aid was not compromised.

I refer to an article inThe Sunday Business Post of 31 August 2003, at the very time we met the Ugandan representatives. They made a very impressive case to the committee that Ireland should not dilute its overseas aid to Uganda. The report stated that a leading Ugandan politician who visited Ireland to meet members of the Government and the committees was censured four years ago for influence-peddling and financial impropriety. The Ugandan Minister of State for Finance, Sam Kutesa, was censured on 4 March 1999 for his role in the purchase of state-owned Uganda Airlines’ shares in the cargo-handling firm, Entebbe Handling Services. He was advised to resign but vowed that he never would. They are the sort of people the Minister of State is dealing with. My remarks may sound harsh in light of the pleasant and positive things being said.

The Senator's research should have been better.

I am giving the Minister of State an opportunity to refute——

I wish I had time to do so.

——or respond to these issues.

There are two sides to the story. It is very serious.

It is important. They are in the public domain.

I agree with the Senator. It is taxpayers' money.

It is important they are debated. I am not acting as an advocate for GOAL or anybody else but these are very serious questions that have been raised. These serious allegations should be answered. I ask the Minister of State to respond on the issue of Darfur which is of much more importance.

I am anxious to facilitate Senators Norris and Mansergh with four minutes each and the Minister of State to conclude at 12.40 p.m. with five minutes.

I have to attend a committee meeting.

I will speak for two minutes.

Thank you, Senator Norris.

I am very grateful for the flexibility. I agree it is absurd and a complete nonsense to deal with a continent such as Africa in one hour. As the only African-born Member of the House, I have a particular stake and interest. The continent of Africa is a disaster. Robert Mugabe, for example, is a criminal who is destroying his country. Under the previous leadership of Nelson Mandela, South Africa was held up as an example but now Thabo Mbeke is in power. One must seriously question the leadership of somebody who denies a relationship between the human immune deficiency virus and AIDS and suggests that AIDS can be cured by eating beetroot. It is a complete and utter nonsense.

I am interested in the dispute between the Minister of State and one of his own Senators. It revolves around the area of Uganda and recognition. I support Senator Mooney's argument and I also support GOAL. I note that moves have been made in this direction and €10 million of aid has been redirected.

I was born in the Congo. It is unspeakable to think that 4 million people have been killed. That is equal to the population of Ireland. There has been intervention from places such as Rwanda and Uganda. Uganda has no naturally-occurring mineral deposits of diamonds yet they are one of its largest exports. The diamonds are being raped out of the Democratic Republic of Congo and that is insupportable. For that reason there are very large questions to be answered about the operation of Irish aid in this area.

I presume the Minister of State is in contact with the Congolese-Irish Partnership. I hope the partnership has sent him the kind of detailed documentation I have seen. Despite the flexibility demonstrated in the House, there is not time to read it into the record of the House. The partnership has provided me with information on the city of Kisangani, lower and upper Ieli, Ituri and northern Kivu. There is a series of documented abuses, many involving Rwandan troops with named personnel. Other tragic situations are documented such as the incursion of stock breeders from Chad destroying the natural farming methods of the people. Time after time, one must refer to Rwanda. I apologise for the sketchy nature of this contribution but I understand the Minister of State has to leave and my colleague, Senator Mansergh wishes to speak. The House should have a full debate on this issue.

I welcome the Minister of State and his positive report. I have a deep admiration for his commitment and leadership in this area. Listening to debates sometimes, everything appears to be a disaster. I have here an article reporting on the proceedings of the World Bank earlier this year, which shows that between 1981 and 2001 absolute poverty as defined by income of less than a dollar per day declined from 40% to 21%, while 500 million people in south and east Asia were helped out of poverty by economic growth. Admittedly, Africa has gone backwards, as Senators noted. I have great respect for the achievements of South Africa, notwithstanding the difficulties caused by AIDS.

We should consider the issue of providing development aid to countries involved in peace processes because we have an extra contribution to make in that regard. I have referred on previous occasions to Sri Lanka and the difficult position in which it finds itself.

Ireland has risen from a very low to a relatively high position in terms of development aid contributions. Having substantially overcome our economic difficulties of recent years, it is important that we honour the commitment made by the Taoiseach to increase our development aid to 0.7% of gross domestic product. We enjoy immense respect for the achievements of our economy and the relative success of our peace process, despite its problems and we should add to this respect by joining the leading development aid donors. I say this despite being finance spokesperson for the Fianna Fáil Party in the Chamber. While this objective is important, development aid must be directed and spent in ways which minimise the possibility of abuse referred to by Senators.

I thank Senators for their contributions. We have already addressed many of the issues raised by Senator Mansergh and it is a pity we do not have time to discuss them further. Ireland has a good reputation in development co-operation and we have acted to the best of our ability during our Presidency.

The debate has covered many subjects. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I find I must defend two positions raised by Senator Mooney and will, therefore, have little time to address the large number of other general issues Senators raised. The issue of Uganda was raised, about which we could have long debates. I have addressed this matter on a number of occasions and will discuss it again in a forthcoming committee hearing.

I ask that those who question our policy on Uganda closely examine the matter. There is no question that taxpayers' money provided by the Government is going astray. The notion that the Government hands cheques to Ugandan Ministers is simplistic and dangerous. As a result of the dissemination of that message, my Department has received telephone calls, albeit a small number, from people arguing that Africa is a waste of time. Some of those who contacted the Department also called for Africans in this country to be sent back. The people who support the line that we should withdraw aid from Uganda are mainly those who believe there is no point in giving money to Africa and that the continent is a lost cause. Debate is healthy but those engaging in it should check all the facts on both sides of the argument before raising such a complex matter in a simplistic fashion.

I have observed the work the Government does in Uganda at first hand. Having seen the faces of young children in villages where water supplies have been turned on and met teachers who were trained using Irish taxpayer's money, I can state categorically that the money we provide is spent soundly on the poorest people and not corruptly.

We exert our influence by our presence. Many other European Union countries, including Britain and the Netherlands, are also involved in Uganda and trying to exert influence. Senators properly raised the fact that Rwanda, like Uganda, is involved in the Congo. The Ugandans have withdrawn from the Congo as a result of the influence we brought to bear on them. I redirected my Department's government to government moneys towards a more sectoral approach because I believed we should exert political influence as regards the country's presence in the Congo. We provide support for areas at district level. I am satisfied having visited programmes that the moneys are being well spent.

I stand over our development programme in Uganda. Those who suggest we should withdraw it should realise that this would lead to loss of life among ordinary people and those who argue that we should give the money to non-governmental organisations should be aware that NGOs do not have the capacity to train teachers, develop school curricula, provide major water facilities or build roads that extend for 50 kilometres. This is a complex issue which I am willing to debate but people should examine both sides of the argument. It is a pity that the agenda of the House precludes us from debating the issue further.

Senator Mooney also raised the issue of Sudan. I was involved in ongoing talks in Nairobi on the conflict in Sudan as part of a European Union troika. We are deeply involved in the matter in Darfour and are liaising with both sides to try to arrange a ceasefire. Unfortunately, Sudan was also on the agenda during my previous period in office as a Minister of State and I visited the country at the time. I am willing to visit the area again if necessary and we are working heavily behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient time to address the many other important issues raised by Senators, including trade and development, but I thank them. I agree that we must work hard to give countries the capacity to trade out of poverty. Aid, while extremely important, is not the only factor. Senators correctly argued that we should move towards spending 0.7% of GDP on aid and their support to that end is appreciated.

Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.