Commencement Matters

Harbour Authorities

The first matter will be taken by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. You are very faithful to the House, Minister, and you are welcome once again. Your favourite Senator is waiting.

I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, for coming to the House. I have put down a Commencement matter calling on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to indicate his intentions to authorise the transfer of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company from the State to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, as provided for under the Harbours Act 2015.

I realise the Minister is aware and knowledgeable about what is going on in Dún Laoghaire Harbour but I will set out some key points. There is considerable uncertainty about the future governance and management of Dún Laoghaire Harbour given the possible transfer of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company from the State to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The suggestion that ports of local or regional significance would transfer to local authorities has been flagged for approximately two years, since 2015. We have seen some cases of where that has happened.

I wish to flag several issues. I wish to declare that I was a director of the company for two terms so I understand the intricacies of company law and especially issues around the governance of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. I live in Dún Laoghaire and I am a former local elected representative for the area. I know and understand the workings of the company and of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

I have several concerns. Outstanding issues remain in respect of a due diligence report commissioned for the harbour. There are protracted legal issues. There are human resources issues and disputes. There is a depleted workforce at the company. There are suggestions of a major deficit in the pension fund for the company. There are issues relating to corporate governance and funding sources.

I understand this State company has never issued a dividend to the State. I call on the Minister to check this out at some future date. It would raise serious concern if a State company did not give a dividend to the shareholder. In this case, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Finance are shareholders on behalf of the State. Every company has to wash its face. A State company, like this one, needs to be able to issue some dividend, if not to the shareholders, then ultimately for spending on the company and the assets of the company.

I have looked at the company's registration and directorships. I understand two of the directors are to cease being in office within months. That will leave only two other directors. This is something I am keen for the Minister to look at. Given the transitional period under discussion, perhaps the Minister can use his powers and office – which is his entitlement in this case – to appoint one or two directors for another transitional period of one year or two. Ultimately, that is a matter for the Minister but it is important to note that there are four directors in place in the company today and two are due to go in a matter of months.

A person who retired from the company some years ago is now acting harbour master. There is a legal obligation to have a harbour master in any harbour. That is an important issue.

What am I asking of the Minister today? I am asking for a decision to be made on the transfer at some point soon rather than for us to be left in limbo. The physical structure of the harbour is in a bad way in parts. There is no coherent masterplan or vision for the harbour. We need a new governance and management structure. We need a new vision and direction for Dún Laoghaire. This is an amazing port. It is an asset to the country, the local economy and the community of Dún Laoghaire.

We need certainty about the Minister's intentions in the short to medium term. We need certainty on how this is progressing. It is important for the community, the sailing fraternity, businesses in the town and the county council and its chief executive. If they have to take over, they need to understand the ramifications and whether there is a shortfall and a need for investment. I have touched on a range of issues. At this stage people are crying out for some direction and certainty about a future transfer of this company.

I thank the Senator for bringing up this issue, which is one which has been going on for far longer than would be preferable. The issue of transfer is thorny and has now become a political football. It is a matter of conflict between various parties. I will not and do not have to duck out of anything, but the real problem, as the Senator is aware, is that there are two court cases which constrain me enormously in terms of what I can say about some of the issues he has raised. They are very delicate issues and I do not want to say anything which would prejudice the cases.

The Senator will find my reply useful, but before I refer to it I will answer some of the questions he asked. He is right on the issue of directors. It might be helpful to appoint a couple of new directors. If I felt they would hasten the process it would be a very good idea. There is room for that. I note from a table I have here that one director will retire on 1 July this year and another on 23 September. I would not leave the board inquorate, but the case for appointing new directors is probably compelling. This long saga needs a direction which stops the stalemate that appears to have been reached and which is frustrating Government policy and leaving the future of the harbour in a great deal of doubt.

The only real role that the Minister has to play directly in the matter to which the Senator referred is if there is a dispute about the model of transfer which is adopted when the harbour is taken in by the local authority. That can be done by a direct share transfer or integrating the assets into the local authority. That has not been decided. A risk assessment is currently taking place which is postponing any decision. If there is a dispute, I will be in a position to make a decision but I have not got to that stage yet.

On the issue of the dividend, it is sometimes very frustrating for a Minister to see profitable companies not paying dividends to the State because obviously we feel we could make good use of them. I am not sure whether dividends have never been paid, but I will take the Senator's word on that. They have not been paid recently. The Senator made a case for dividends. Some State companies maintain that there are other reasons they do not want to pay dividends. They include boosting their reserves for specific reasons. The Irish Aviation Authority is one of the most profitable companies in my portfolio and does not pay a dividend. We asked it about that. I agree with the Senator that it certainly should pay one. There are sometimes good reasons dividends are not paid or are not as big as they might be. Public companies which make profits sometimes do not pay dividends for the same reasons.

I wish to advise that the transfer of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is progressing. The national ports policy, published in March 2013, provides that the five designated ports of regional significance, that is, Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow, will be transferred to more appropriate local authority-led governance structures. The five ports retain important roles as facilitators of their regional economies and, in some instances, as centres of marine-related amenities and tourism activities. However, the scale and nature of these activities are not such as to warrant continued central government involvement. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is designated for transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The Harbours Act 2015 provides the necessary legislative framework to allow for the transfer of ports of regional significance to local authority control. The relevant legislation was enacted in 2015. The Act is not prescriptive in regard to the model for transport for each port. Rather, it is designed to provide the maximum legislative flexibility by providing for the two possible models of transfer to which I have referred, namely, the retention of the existing company structure and transfer of ministerial shareholding in the company to the local authority or dissolution of the existing company structure and transfer of all assets, liabilities and employees into local authority structures.

The intention is that in the case of each port, the local authority and port will agree the most appropriate model of transfer. The optimum model will be the one which finds broad consensus and agreement between parties. If there is disagreement between the port company and the local authority on the model of transfer, then the final decision will be taken by the Minister.

The process of transferring governance of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to the council is well advanced and, as I have said, the future governance and operational structures of the port are primarily matters for agreement between the council and the port company. In the case of each port transfer to a local authority, the decision on the model of transfer is informed by due diligence carried out by the local authority with funding support from my Department.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has procured consultants to conduct due diligence, and the council chief executive presented the due diligence report to councillors at the council meeting held on 9 January 2017. As the report raised a number of issues for further clarification, the chief executive decided to engage a risk and finance consultant to carry out a risk assessment. This assessment will enable the council to fully understand the implications of each model of transfer and the responsibility that will transfer, in financial and other terms. Officials from my Department met with the risk assessor on 31 January 2017 to give the shareholder's perspective on national ports policy and to explain different models of transfer.

Since then, I understand that both the council and the port have engaged in a process. In April 2017, clarification was sought from my officials on whether it was necessary to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding commercially sensitive information held by the port. My officials met with the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company's chief executive officer and company secretary on 11 April 2017 to progress matters, and a way forward was agreed in order to enable the exchange of information required, and to clarify any outstanding issues so that the risk assessment could be completed.

I understand the port company has engaged with the risk assessor, who is now in the process of preparing the final report for presentation to the council at a meeting scheduled to take place on 26 February. I expect matters to then progress towards the agreement of a model and a transfer date. Finally, I can confirm that Wicklow Port Company transferred to Wicklow County Council in August 2016 by a ministerial order made under the Harbours Act 2015. Drogheda Port Company transferred to Louth County Council in October 2017. The transfer of the other ports of regional significance to local authority control is progressing.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. It is clear that it is intended to transfer the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and the governance of the harbour to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I appreciate that the Minister has outlined that he has a role only in the event of a dispute. Would the Minister consider appointing one or two people to the board early on to help push things along? He has identified that as a possibility. I also appeal to the Minister to consider some engagement with Ms Philomena Poole, the chief executive of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, in regard to those appointments. Clearly, if this company is going to transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, there is a strong case to be made for dialogue and consultation between the Minister and the chief executive beforehand. Suitable people to fill the skills shortage that may affect the company may come forward. I would appreciate it if the Minister would consider that.

This is a constructive and sensible discussion. I will respond by saying unless something occurs to me in the next couple of days, I will seriously consider appointing two directors. I will do that through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, process. I would not have any direct involvement in it. It will take place through the process set up by my Department. This will mean that the appointees are independently nominated and are not political cronies or anything of that sort. With that reservation, I accept the Senator's point.

Third Level Fees

I thank the Minister of State for attending the House today to respond to the issue I have raised on third level fees, specifically those charged to students undertaking a year's internship as part of their course of study. The issue was highlighted to me by a student in north County Dublin who is in her third year in Maynooth. She is on work placement for the full year. She also has a friend who is in DCU who is on a full-year's work placement. They both have to pay their full fees to their particular universities amounting to more than €3,000 each. They do not have any access to the library and they are not undertaking tutorials, lectures or examinations. Their only interaction is submitting a report at the end of their internship in June.

The Citizens' Information service says that student contribution fees cover student services and examinations in college. That is disproportionate to the level of service these girls and many thousands like them are getting when they undertake their internship year. Perhaps the Minister of State will consider directing that the colleges reduce their fees significantly for students who undertake a full academic year out of the college setting, who do not access the services and have limited interaction with college staff.

I thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for raising this matter. Internships are an increasingly important element of higher education programmes and are a means of strengthening the link between higher education and the workplace. They afford students the opportunity to apply their learning to a work environment, thereby enriching both the student and the workplace. In particular, academic programmes that include an internship module provide students with an opportunity to put theory into practice, to acquire new skills and knowledge - personal and work related - and to enhance their employment potential on graduation.

The importance of work based learning in higher education is reflected in the new systems performance framework that was published in December 2017. The new framework that provides the strategic objectives for the higher education sector up to 2020 includes a high level target that all students will have the opportunity to undertake a work placement or a work-based project as part of their course by 2025. The Higher Education Authority will work with the higher education institutions to ensure that this target is achieved.

It is important to acknowledge that there is a cost to individual higher education institutions arising from the establishment of internship programmes, for example, students undertaking the internship element of their programme continue to have access to all institutional facilities. Institutions are also expected to support their students during the internship element of their programme through formative and summative evaluation. There are also costs associated with developing and sustaining links with employers.

It is also important to recognise that higher education institutions are autonomous bodies and my Department has a limited role in the day-to-day running of the operational affairs of the institutions. In particular, it is an issue for higher education institutions in the first instance to determine the level of fee applicable to particular programmes or to particular elements of academic programmes.

The student contribution, which currently stands at €3,000, applies to all students who benefit from the Department's free fees initiative. The student contribution is paid by the Exchequer in respect of students who qualify under the Department's third level grant schemes. Tax relief is also available for second and subsequent siblings to alleviate the cost for families for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education.

The Senator will be aware that we are reinvesting in higher education for the first time in a decade. Ensuring a sustainable funding model for higher education is a key priority for me. To this end, I secured funding of €36.5 million in budget 2017. This was complemented by additional funding of €60 million for higher education in budget 2018. This additional funding will allow for targeted initiatives in higher education, including in respect of skills programmes, performance and innovation funding, technological university development, and apprenticeship costs in the sector. It will also allow for places to be provided for 2,100 and additional students in 2018. This means we are investing approximately €100 million more in higher education in 2018 by comparison with 2016.

To complement this work, I recently published an independent expert review of the current allocation model for funding higher education. It provides a roadmap for transitioning towards a reformed funding model that is more transparent, that is consistent across higher education institutions, that incentivises actions in key strategic areas, such as research and STEM provision, and that supports improved accountability while also respecting international autonomy. I will continue to work to provide a more sustainable funding model for the higher education sector in the years ahead while also recognising and respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions over key operational decisions. Again, I thank the Senator for affording me the opportunity to respond on this matter.

The Minister said internships are becoming increasingly important. They are also becoming increasingly more common. When I was in third level, it was very rare for an internship year to be part of the normal course of study. It is far more prevalent in today's society.

The Minister mentioned that students have access to the facilities in the third level institution, such as the library, during their internship year. While this is true, most of the students work for approximately 40 hours per week and will not be going back into the university to use the library. They are very busy during their working week. In reality, therefore, they do not access the services of the third level institution. While I accept that the Minister has limited scope in regard to the fees charged by third level institutions, perhaps there is scope for her to encourage them to reflect on the fees they charge to the increasing number of students who are taking the internship option as part of their courses and perhaps reduce the fees nominally to reflect the fact that the students are not using the college facilities.

I thank the Senator for her remarks. Internship is becoming increasingly important. We will be seeing more of it and we will be encouraging it. I would like the students to be able to use the library. Certainly, I am not someone who would say that if one does not pay fees, one may not use the library. Given the very nature of third level education, library facilities must be available to students. Whether they use them is an issue for themselves.

Higher education institutions are autonomous. I will reflect on what the Senator said, however. At present, I am making sure there is increased funding for higher education institutions so each student will have a better experience right through the continuum of higher education.

School Accommodation Provision

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. I believe it is his first time addressing a Commencement matter for me in this Chamber. I want him to be generous and to act boldly with regard to the matter I raise.

Like the majority of parents, I wanted a more progressive education for my children. Accordingly, I was part of the parents group which established the successful Educate Together school at Griffith Barracks on South Circular Road, Dublin 8. Obtaining the premises for the school was quite a battle. That is why I am particularly passionate about the Canal Way Educate Together project. I hope the Department will be more proactive than it was 18 years ago.

When I was segregated across the road at the Mater Dei national school, now St. James's primary school, my brothers attended CBS James Street, which is now where the Canal Way Educate Together school is located. I welcome the students, parents and the teachers from Canal Way school to the Visitors Gallery. When I visited the school last week, I noted the atmosphere was about creativity, spontaneity, respect, co-operation and fun, which was evident in every classroom. It is the opposite to what my brothers put up with in the CBS. However, this creativity and modern schooling is confined and constricted by the lack of space for expansion, the dire conditions of the building with poor heating, toilet facilities and opaque windows which the kids cannot see through and the lease. The school was the first to be divested from Catholic patronage of religious orders under a previous Minister. However, it was given a paltry ten-year lease in 2014. The school's board of management was not consulted and had no input regarding its terms and conditions. It is at the mercy of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust to do any building works, upgrading or expansion. This is untenable.

There are six years remaining on the lease. How can the children, teachers, principal, parents and community function securely with such a short-term miserable lease? This is causing chaos and anxiety for parents. There is nowhere else to enrol their children. Why should they have to go anywhere else? My neighbour, for example, put her son's name on the school's waiting list four years ago when he was one month old. However, he cannot be accommodated at the school this September. I have been stopped on the streets and in shops and have received emails and phone calls on the subject. It is a massive issue for Dublin 8, but one that is repeated across the country.

The school is unique, offering a modern education system to nurture our children and our communities. Will the Minister get the lease and security of tenure for this school? In turn, this will allow growth and expansion of the school, which is in such high demand. Will the Minister please just do it?

I thank Senator Devine for raising this issue which has already been raised with me by Deputies Catherine Byrne, Ó Snodaigh and Senator Bacik. I know this is a valuable school, treasured within its community. Canal Way Educate Together school is a co-educational school which opened in September 2013 in Harcourt Terrace.

Subsequently, in 2014, the school moved to a former primary school building in Basin Lane that was secured as part of Government policy on school divesting. The school had 240 pupils enrolled at September 2017 and staffing of a principal, nine mainstream teachers and three resource posts. The existing accommodation at Basin Lane consists of ten mainstream classrooms, which are sufficient to meet the school's current enrolment numbers. To facilitate its development, the school has submitted an application to my Department for additional accommodation.

The Basin Lane building is subject to a ten-year and nine-month lease between the Edmund Rice Schools Trust and the Minister for Education and Skills, which, in turn, has been subleased by the Department to Educate Together, which is the patron body. Any building works require consent of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust under the lease. In that connection, my Department has been liaising with the Edmund Rice Schools Trust to secure its consent to the placement of temporary accommodation on the school site. I am pleased to confirm that the Edmund Rice Schools Trust has agreed a licence agreement that will allow for the provision of an additional six mainstream classrooms and three resource rooms to the school. An approval letter devolving authority for the delivery of the classrooms concerned has been issued by my Department to the school. My Department will be in ongoing contact with the school to provide relevant assistance with this project. I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I can assure her that my Department will continue to liaise with the school regarding its accommodation needs.

Does the Senator want a brief supplementary?

I thank the Minister for liaising with the Edmund Rice Schools Trust but I guess the word that stands out for me is temporary. It is not going to solve the problem. Will the Minister visit the school? I know he cannot visit every school in the country and I understand his workload, but this is the first one to be divested and I think it would send out a great message and follow on from Government policy to divest schools to communities and let communities run and have ownership of them. I would like the Minister to visit the school and I invite him, as do the principal, parents and children. Will he negotiate with the Edmund Rice Schools Trust to buy this school? Is he in that negotiation space or are we just still talking about temporary accommodation? I appreciate the nuances in divestment but the Minister needs to be bold. We need to grab this and ensure that our children have the modern schooling they deserve so this country and the culture changes. Again, it is all well and good but please omit the word "temporary". It needs to be permanent security.

The matter of purchasing a property is something that would have to be considered by the Department in a wider context. We try to avoid purchasing sites in many cases where we can secure leases on good terms. Most of the properties we have are owned by patrons rather than the Department. The Department builds or provides facilities with a lien to ensure those properties are put to educational use. From an Exchequer point of view, that has been a satisfactory way to interact with patrons. What the Senator is suggesting would require some reflection by the Department as to whether it ought to move from such arrangements to a different arrangement. I do not have a fixed view on this. I would say that in the short term, the Department is fully committed in terms of capital to meet what is now an estimated 20,000 additional places we must provide every year. That does mean that we must be fairly careful with the use of capital. Site acquisition is pretty much confined to areas where we must acquire a site for a new school where we have those commitments. Site acquisition is adopted when it is necessary, not as a routine approach. I am not closing my mind to that but what is important is that under the existing arrangement, we have permission to allow the school develop. My Department will obviously be working with the school to ensure that its longer-term plans can be delivered in this way. I cannot commit today to visiting any particular school but I will bear in mind the kind invitation issued by the principal. When I get an opportunity to go out and about, as I try to do, I will certainly consider a visit to this school.

Diaspora Issues

I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. I am seeking an update on funding and plans for assisting organisations and lobby groups which support the Irish diaspora, along with a similar update about foreign aid programmes. It is great to see the Minister of State back in the House. I acknowledge his work and the work of the Government in this area and his deep personal interest in and commitment to the global Irish. Brexit is posing many challenges for Ireland but I also believe it will present many opportunities for Ireland. Until recently, as I have stated many times, an average of 26 daily meetings took place between Irish and UK officials in Europe. This provided politicians and officials with a platform to nurture and develop friendships and trust. We need to do more to ensure that this trust and these friendships can be protected and enhanced. It is evident that the Government is committed to growing our global footprint for overseas staff. I was very pleased to hear the Taoiseach's commitment at the end of last year to double Ireland's representation around the world, through its network of embassies and agencies, focusing on investment, tourism, culture and food. As the Minister of State knows, Ireland has always punched well above its weight and Irish people have made huge contributions wherever they have travelled. I believe that, as a country, we do not have a colonial or imperialist past. Ireland is in a great place now, as an independent nation, to step up and take its place among the nations of the world and do what is good and lead by example. I look forward to hearing what exactly the plans are for our diaspora, for our foreign NGOs, etc.

In 2018, the Government has committed €11.595 million to the emigrant support programme. Through this important programme, the Government supports culturally sensitive front-line welfare services, targeted at the most vulnerable members of our overseas communities. It also supports cultural, heritage, business and capital investment projects which benefit Irish communities abroad. The current round of that particular emigrant support programme grant scheme is open for online applications until 16 February 2018. We are also continuing our work to reduce the barriers faced by citizens returning to Ireland from abroad. I commissioned an economic report on difficulties experienced by Irish people returning home which will soon be finalised and published. This will be considered by the interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad, which works to facilitate a whole-of-Government response to issues affecting Irish people abroad. In addition, my Department has established an innovative new project to assist returning emigrant entrepreneurs, the back for business pilot programme, which is also successfully under way.

The Government is demonstrating its continued commitment to achieving a solution for our undocumented citizens in the US by proactively engaging with the Irish immigration centres and continuing our political engagement through high-level visits which will continue up to and including the St. Patrick's Day visits and onwards after that. The Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, with the support of legal advice funded by the Department's emigrant support programme, has produced straightforward and accessible interpretation and guidance about the executive orders which has been made available through its own website and those of the embassy and consulates. Our priority continues to be to support the most vulnerable members of our community abroad, with 70% of that emigrant support programme funding going to organisations which provide front-line welfare services. Based on key themes discussed at the global Irish civic forum in May 2017, we are also seeking to encourage greater collaboration within Irish communities overseas. We are committed to supporting diversity in the diaspora to best represent the range of Irish groups and organisations that exist at home and abroad, including those that have been under-represented historically. The focus of this year's funding round is on collaborative projects which support intergenerational links and which reflect diversity and support new emigrants.

The Government is strongly committed to Ireland's overseas development co-operation programme and its place at the heart of our foreign policy. A Programme for a Partnership Government clearly articulates our commitment to the UN target of providing 0.7% of gross national income in official development assistance as economic conditions allow.

The manifestation of that commitment has been the steady increase over each of the last three budgets in the funds allocated to official development assistance with just over €770 million allocated in budget 2018. Around 70% of official development assistance is channelled through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as Irish Aid with the remainder channelled through other Government Departments. Our citizens can take pride in the achievement of Irish Aid which is helping to transform lives. Ireland's response to humanitarian crises allows those in refugee circumstances to meet basic needs such as food and education. Working with such organisations as Concern and Trócaire, the EU, the UN and key partner countries in Africa, Ireland is helping to build resilient communities and societies and also helping to ensure other potential humanitarian crises are avoided. Irish civil servants, drawing on the knowledge, contacts and expertise generated by the Irish Aid programme, were instrumental in brokering agreement of the sustainable development goals at the UN, a set of targets which are intended to improve the lives of everyone on our planet by 2030.

In building and maintaining an effective development co-operation programme, my Department has developed a series of transparent criteria for funding. There are two main civil society funding streams currently operating. The first is a civil society programme grant, which is a performance-based multi-annual grant for organisations of a certain size. It allows for flexibility and predictability in addressing the needs of poorer and marginalised people. The second such funding stream is the annual civil society project fund, which allows Irish and selected international NGOs to apply for funding for projects up to three years in duration. The 2018 funding round, which saw an increase in the potential size of grants awarded closed last month and applications are being assessed.

Looking forward, the improving economic circumstances open the prospect of increases in Irish official development assistance in future budgets. To prepare for this, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has indicated that Ireland's development co-operation policy should be revisited to take account of the current global context and to ensure Ireland's policies are ready for the development challenges of the decade ahead. Development of this new policy will include a public consultation phase. It will also reflect the work undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence which is currently reviewing the Irish Aid programme. The new official development assistance policy should inform very ambitious but sustainable progress towards meeting that UN target for official development assistance.

I am delighted the Minister of State is working to reduce the barriers faced by citizens seeking to return to Ireland from abroad. I look forward to seeing the report when it is finalised. They are people who never forgot our country and sometimes went in difficult times. Everything should be put in place to provide the best possible assistance for returned emigrant entrepreneurs such as a back to business pilot programme. Much funding has been spent. We have gone up to 0.7% of gross national income in official development assistance. We could work more closely with a lot of other organisations in a lot of other areas. We have applied for observer status at the group of francophone nations. They also work closely with countries in Africa. Through the francophone group and the EU, we can make our money go further. I know the Minister of State is looking at various opportunities and I appreciate the work being done. I appreciate that sometimes Irish Aid can be forgotten about. I want to highlight the great work the Minister of State, the Department and all the other Departments involved in Irish Aid are doing but the Irish overseas should be helped as well. We need to take our place among the nations of the world. We are an independent nation without any baggage and we can now be independent arbiters around the world. We should not be afraid to take those steps.

I thank the Senator for his consistent interest in this area. The report from Indecon, which was the entity commissioned to prepare the report on the barriers that exist for returning emigrants, will be published very shortly. It has forensically assessed each of those barriers and the reasons they occur and has suggested some very innovative solutions which we hope to implement. The Senator is correct in saying that Ireland, quite rightly, is proud of its long and historic track record in supporting vulnerable communities and countries across the world.

The Senator mentioned francophone Africa. I just returned from Senegal last week where Ireland as a long-committed member of the Global Partnership for Education - indeed one of the founders of the Global Partnership for Education in 2002 - was able to commit to doubling its funding for that particular endeavour over the next three years in partnership with a number of other countries with a similar interest in ensuring that the incredible societal transformation that occurred in this country over the past 50 years through education can also occur in other countries where young people are equally entitled to share in that success.