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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Dec 2018

Vol. 262 No. 8

Finance (African Development (Bank and Fund) and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Report on fossil fuel divestment

9. The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas on Ireland’s participation in the African Development Bank and Fund and its compatibility with Ireland’s commitment to fossil fuel divestment, including a consideration of measures being taken to support divestment.”.

This amendment is simply seeking consistency between the policies we pass in this House. I support our investment in the African Development Bank but, given that it is a significant investment as Ireland will be contributing €62 million, it is important we apply proper scrutiny and ensure large investment is complementary to our other commitments. I specifically reference the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act which states, "[the NTMA] shall endeavour to ensure that the assets of the Fund are not invested in an indirect investment at any time after the commencement of this section, unless it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that such indirect investment is unlikely to have in excess of 15 per cent of its assets, or such lower percentage as the Minister may prescribe by order made under this section, invested in a fossil fuel undertaking". My amendment is simply asking that the Minister should, within the first year of the passing of this Act, lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas on Ireland's participation in the African Development Bank and Fund and the extent to which it is compatible with Ireland's commitment to fossil fuel divestment, including a consideration of any measure as may be taken by the bank to support divestment.

We have heard about the measures being taken within the governance of the African Development Bank and Fund which I appreciate. There is a further responsibility for Ireland, separate from the measures being taken internally in the fund, in its responsibility to these Houses. What I am asking for can be brought into the Bill by way of amendment or perhaps the Minister of State will commit to doing it otherwise. We need to see a consideration of the African National Bank and Fund and the percentage of investment with which Ireland is involved. Is there investment that has in excess of 15% of its assets invested in fossil fuel undertakings? That is an important issue. What other considerations are there in terms of fossil fuel divestment or a widening of investment within the African National Bank and Fund?

I am asking for a report to show that compatibility. The Minister of State might indicate other ways or measures in which we can be assured of that because the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act specifically sets out rules for both direct and indirect investment from Ireland. I am trying to ensure we follow through on it. I hope the Minister of State can offer me information on the issue.

I propose to discuss amendments Nos. 1 and 2 as a group.

We are dealing with amendment No. 1. The amendments were not grouped.

The concerns which are reflected in the amendment proposed by the Senator are relevant in the context of our membership and engagement with the bank and fund. Human rights and climate action issues are fundamental drivers of our international development policy which underpins, informs and shapes our engagement with all international institutions. However, as a general principle, it is not appropriate to embed in legislation specific, once-off measures in the way suggested, especially when there is already a 12-month post-enactment reporting obligation.

As the Senator may be aware, under Standing Order 164A of the Oireachtas, there is an obligation after 12 months of the enactment of a Bill to review and make a report on the function of the Act. This report shall be laid in the Oireachtas Library. On the current Bill and complying with Standing Order 164A, I am sure the Minister will give full consideration to the concerns reflected and expressed in the Senator's amendments and those expressed by other Members during the passage of the Bill. I do not propose to accept the amendments proposed by the Senator.

I appreciate that the Act will be fully analysed but I would like to see an escalation of the seriousness with which we speak on the climate issue. There was significant concern expressed across the House at what was felt by many to be the inadequacy of the statements process on climate change. We had a situation this year where, rather than each Minister engaging with the House, we simply had very short statements from each Minister and a very-----

Is this relevant? I take the point.

It is relevant. It is relevant that we have specific and tailored scrutiny of these issues and an opportunity to engage on them.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Report on National Plan on Business and Human Rights

9. The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas on Ireland’s participation in the African Development Bank and Fund and its compatibility with Ireland’s National Plan on Business and Human Rights, including a consideration of the investments of corporations based in Ireland.”.

This amendment relates to Ireland's national plan on business and human rights which the Minister of State has referenced. Ireland has a national plan on business and human rights and there is a concern that we need to follow that through into our indirect investment and into what we are doing in the African Development Bank.

This is all about policy consistency. Ireland rightly has a reputation within the UN and elsewhere for supporting civil society. It is important to note that civil society in both the issues of development and human rights has raised concerns about the African Development Bank and Fund. I want to ensure Ireland, as an investor in this fund, is exercising a force and pressure for responsiveness within the fund. I am referencing the 2018 civil society forum of the African Development Bank at which, after an extensive debate by civil society across a number of African countries, a concern was raised that the development strategy was based largely about private sector led industrialisation that risked failing to build equitable, inclusive transformation that would be responsive to the desires and aspirations of African people and their human rights rather than the interests of transnational corporations. These are concerns from African civil society. If we are engaging as investors, we also need to engage in the full discussion.

The message from the civil society forum at the time was to urge the African Development Bank to give priority to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, an issue with which we are familiar an Ireland. The message was to ensure social and environmental protections were not sacrificed at the cost of high-scale investment in private investment in the industrialise Africa agenda and involve civil society in the civil society organisation engagement framework and ensure implementation under it. There is also a need to consider the bank's gender policies. It is worth noting that social science research has highlighted concerns with the African Development Bank and women's health and the impact of structural adjustment on measures through the bank on maternal mortality.

We are small investors in the bigger picture of this fund, but the fund is a huge player in charting the development paths and options in many African counties. The same issues that we debate in these Houses are the issues being debated by citizens in every country. Like us, they want to know that there is accountability on human rights and social and environmental considerations. Investment in Africa is not simply a matter of moving figures around. It is not simply a matter of quarterly returns, or the percentage increase, or what return there is on investments. If we are investors, let us be ethical investors.

My amendment simply suggests, in the light of the national plan on business and human rights, that the Minister would lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas around Ireland's participation in the African Development Bank, its compatibility with Ireland's national plan on business and human rights and particularly the investments of corporations based in Ireland. I raised in the last debate concerns about, for example, San Leon Energy which is operating in an inappropriate way in terms of UN business and human rights measures in the Western Sahara. My concerns were not addressed in the last debate. We have a responsibility. We do not want this money routed to companies and corporations, possibly Irish ones, without proper scrutiny.

I hope the Minister will accept the amendment. If he cannot, I hope he will indicate how the African Development Bank and other indirect investments in which Ireland is participating relate to the national plan on business and human rights.

Central to our engagement with the banking fund is the importance Ireland places on ensuring its operations are held to account against robust standards in terms of human rights, social, environmental, gender and governance matters. In that regard, I note that the bank has in place a strong operational framework and standards, with the bank's integrated safeguard systems being the cornerstone. I note that the bank views economic and social rights as an integral part of human rights. Accordingly, the principles and values of human rights as set out in the UN and African charters of human and people's rights are firmly embedded in the bank's integrated safeguard system.

The system is a clear and integrated package of policies and procedures to address and safeguard issues that arise in development. Of note, it provides for transparency and accountability by providing a structured, systematic and managed way of allowing the concerns and voices of affected people, in particular vulnerable populations, to be heard and addressed during project planning and implementation. I understand these independent review mechanisms cover adverse impacts in respect of environmental and social impacts, as well as labour conditions, health and safety, involuntary settlement, biodiversity, ecosystem impacts, pollution prevention and control, hazardous materials and resource efficiency.

In terms of climate and sustainability more broadly, the banking fund, with other multilateral development banks, has committed to scaling up significantly investment in climate adaption and climate mitigation. In that regard, the bank has pledged by 2020 to triple its climate financing spend to 40% of investments and to mainstream climate change and green growth initiatives into all investments. In 2017, the bank reported that 28% of all new bank approvals were allocated as climate finance and all the bank's new energy portfolio approvals were for renewables. These results are indicative of the bank and fund's commitment and ambition in the climate change area. Given its global importance, on joining we shall push for further ambition in that regard.

I appreciate that information on the bank. I am looking to ensure we can process or scrutinise it and not just at a single point of investment. Will we expect those issues also to be reflected in Ireland's reporting on the business and human rights plan? This is in regard to the reviews of Ireland's business and human rights strategy. Will there be a section on our indirect investment in the next report under our business and human rights strategy?

That report is laid before the Houses.

Yes. Will the comments made by the Minister be reflected in the business and human rights strategy documents and reviews?

I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

We had a Second Stage debate on this Bill on Tuesday. I thank the Minister of State and all his officials. It is a positive step for Ireland to be involved in this work and I hope it will benefit the African continent and Ireland's involvement there. It is a two-way relationship and Ireland has a very strong history in helping and being involved with the African continent. I hope this Bill will support the relationship over time. I commend the Minister of State and his Department on their work. I hope it will proceed successfully in the coming years.

Like others, I am happy to see Ireland taking part in this bank investment and it is another strand of Ireland's relationship with a continent of young people, of new, different and innovative approaches to development that we will need in the period ahead. I urge that we look to this new strand of engagement not in any way replacing but as being complimentary to the commitments we have in respect of overseas development aid and the work we do in that regard. I urge that we might add another strand to our bow of engagement by looking to the issues of taxation and transfer pricing, for example. We should look to ensure further positive financial engagement with Africa and African governments in that regard. We must ensure accountability in international finance. I look forward to hearing what our investment contributes to over a period.

I thank everybody for his or her helpfulness, not just with this Bill. I have brought seven pieces of legislation through Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, on which I thank everybody for his or her frank comments, support and strong contributions. I also wish Members and the staff attached to the Houses a very happy Christmas. We will see them back here next year for more fun and games.

No doubt. Happy Christmas to you too.

Question put and agreed to.