I will address the questions in reverse order. I am very aware of the Chair's interest in Northern Ireland and community relations there. One of the reasons we are not reducing funding which supports community engagement and reconciliation through a series of community and civic-led projects in Northern Ireland in spite of the fact that we are two decades after the Good Friday Agreement is that we recognise there is still much work to do in that regard. In the context of some of the negotiations and discussions in our attempts to try to re-establish an Executive in Northern Ireland, we considered increasing funding for some minority Border communities in particular. We wished to send out a very strong signal that both Governments are very anxious to recognise diversity and minority groups living on both sides of the Border.
If anything, we might see slight increases in funding. I assure the committee that I do not envisage any reductions.
With regard to Deputy Grealish's point, the online passport service has been an extraordinary success. Approximately 40% of people applying to renew are doing so online and we think that we can get that number up much higher than 50%. We are solely confining the service to those over the age of 18 but, hopefully, in the future the service will be available for children. It makes sense that people should be able to apply for a driver's licence online. My understanding is that is likely to be the case after October. It would be a little more complicated to apply online from abroad for a licence. I am informed by the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, that under EU law passports can only be sent to an address in the EU. If someone is in Sydney, it is hard to apply online and have an Irish passport sent to Australia but if he or she is returning home and applies for a passport, he or she should be able to update it online.
Members may had have an opportunity to debate the Indecon report and the diaspora generally in the Dáil earlier. Indecon has done good work on the barriers facing returning emigrants in a series of areas, some of which have been raised by members in the past, including driver's licence applications, opening of bank accounts, credit ratings, discrimination in respect of life and health insurance, accessing education and social housing lists and so on. The report is a good basis for Government consideration. The Minister of State will bring a set of recommendations to Government in a few months but significant cross-departmental co-ordination will be necessary to do that because different Departments will need to provide solutions. Hopefully, we will have something for Government by the end of May. If not, it will certainly happen before the summer recess. However, we have a set a target of the end of May.
Deputy Crowe said he would have liked more information to have been provided before the meeting and that is a fair criticism. When I have gone through the Estimates process previously, more detail was available to the committee earlier. We will look at that and try to correct that for next year. If we are to have a proper Estimates process, members need time to digest the detail of where and how we are spending money. I will try to make sure that is improved for the next occasion.
With regard to whether a passport office is needed in Northern Ireland, even with the dramatic increase in online applications and the increase in applications from Northern Ireland, in particular, the system is working well and I am not sure that we need to open a physical office in the North to respond to, and deliver on, the expectations and the aspirations of those seeking Irish passports there. We will keep this under review. I do not want an unnecessary outlay of capital to open new offices when we provide a good service online.
Deputy O'Sullivan and a number of others asked about how we choose the cities and countries for new missions. One of the big priorities is new trade opportunities. That is partially a response to Brexit but even if that was not taking place, there are exciting markets that Irish companies are not part of to the extent that they should be. The obvious place is to start is countries that have trade agreements with the EU. That is why we considered Latin America. There are currently trade agreements in place with both Chile and Colombia. We have a strong historical relationship with both countries, which few Irish people know much about. However, I suspect some members do. We have also had an active interest and involvement through some Irish personalities in the Colombian peace process, which is deeply appreciated in Colombia when I speak to politicians there. We looked on Bogota and Santiago as two cities with significant populations in reasonably stable countries. They have similar business traditions to Ireland, particularly in respect of agrifood and technology. Both economies are expanding and they are seeking EU partners for trade opportunities. There were many reasons for looking to both countries. Our diplomatic representation in South America generally is light but it is particularly light in Latin America. If we are serious about building engagement and trade opportunities with Colombia, it is not a runner to cover the country from Mexico. These are two exciting opportunities.
We probably should have opened an embassy in New Zealand a long time ago. There are large numbers of Irish people there and they are involved in the construction industry, in particular. There are many young Irish students there as well. We have a huge amount in common with the country. It has a significant agrifood and dairy industry. We compete with New Zealand in many markets but we also share a great deal of research and ambition. When one considers the size of our economies and how they are shaped, New Zealand and Ireland have a great deal in common and, therefore, we were anxious that opening an embassy there would be an early decision.
With regard to Vancouver, CETA is the new trade agreement with Canada. We have an embassy in Toronto but Toronto is as close to Dublin as it is to Vancouver. Canada is a massive country and the Irish population there is significant, as it always has been. The Irish influence on Canada is enormous but a significant trading opportunity exists and we are starting to develop that. There have been 12 ministerial visits to the country in 13 months. The political engagement has been undertaken to support this expanding footprint. A consulate will open on the west coast because we have the embassy in Toronto but essentially that is similar to opening a second embassy. We do not need an embassy in Mumbai to exploit trading opportunities because we have one in India. However, Mumbai is a major commercial capital in which Ireland needs to have a presence and that is why we are opening a consulate in the city.
We have also decided to open an embassy in Amman, Jordan, for different reasons. Our global footprint is not all about economics and trade; it is also about ensuring Ireland plays a role and is relevant in political decision-making, human rights advocacy and overseas aid. We spend significant amounts supporting refugees and refugee camps in Jordan. Most of the refugees are Syrian but some are from Palestine. I welcome the Palestinian ambassador to the Gallery. He is always welcome. It is not a secret that the Government and I want to increase the priority of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and Ireland's involvement in trying to advocate for progress in that area. One of the linked decisions to that increased priority is to open an embassy in Amman. There will be some limited trade opportunities as well. Jordan is a stable country and there will be opportunities in the agrifood sector, in particular.
There will be other announcements.
When we bring a plan to Government, it will not involve naming every embassy and consulate we will open between now and 2025, but it certainly will specifically name embassies and consulates we would like to open in 2019, after the list the committee has heard for this year, and there will be reasons for this. There are parts of the world where Ireland has a very light diplomatic presence. North Africa is a good example, as is west Africa. There are also countries such as Ukraine and Serbia where the vast majority of EU member states have embassies and we do not. We need to understand the pressures and political considerations coming from the east as well as the concerns of western European countries.
I do not think there will be any huge surprises here. There are obvious gaps we are filling. The early decisions in terms of expanding our footprint are about the low hanging fruit and the obvious areas where Ireland, now that we can afford to, is looking to ensure we have a presence, never mind increasing a presence. Then, of course, we will build on an existing presence in countries that are strategically important for us. It will not be a surprise to people that we will be beefing up our teams in Paris and Berlin. Potentially in the future, we will also look at consulates in terms of having a secondary presence in markets such as France and Germany, and looking at places such as Munich and Lyon to see whether Ireland needs to increase its presence there. There is also Britain post-Brexit in terms of ensuring Ireland has the presence we need to maintain the closeness we have built up over the past 20 years. Over time, we will look at cities such as Cardiff and some English cities. I am not announcing that we are doing this now. I am just saying this is the type of thinking that guides the global footprint.
To answer Deputy Darragh O'Brien's question on whether doubling the global footprint means doubling the number of embassies we have globally, we have approximately 80 missions abroad at present, with 60 embassies and the rest are consulates. I do not think we will be announcing another 80 in the next seven years. When we speak about doubling our global footprint, we are speaking about doubling Ireland's reach and presence abroad, using all of the tools we have available to do so. Some of this means embassies and consulates and some of it will be using arts and culture more proactively. Some of it will be more proactively reaching out to our diaspora. Some of it will be dramatically increasing, in my view, our overseas aid development budgets, and the increased reach that comes with this, in terms of the opportunities that come from it. Some of it will be using technology to reach out more successfully to ensure there is an Irish voice commenting on world affairs in parts of the world where there is little or no Irish intelligence or voice at present. There are many ways in which we can use the arms of the State and the talent that we have in Ireland in the public and private sectors, through our diaspora and through the infrastructure of the State, to be able to dramatically increase Ireland's reach globally. This is what the global footprint project is all about. I apologise for going on a bit about it, but it is important to give a detailed explanation about it.
Of course there is an opportunity for new groups in Northern Ireland with new thinking to get funding. There is an application process they can follow and we will put in place an assessment process that is impartial in terms of support. I will let my colleague answer the question on the emigrant support programme; I do not want to hog the whole thing.
With regard to the question on passports, I expect we will see an increase in passport numbers for some years to come. Ireland's population will continue to grow. If anything, the estimates in the 2040 plan are conservative. In the next two decades we could see closer to 1.5 million more people in Ireland rather than 1 million, but let us wait and see. The Irish proposition is very attractive, and at least half of the increased population will be people who will not have been born in Ireland, and this is a very good thing. This is not just a guesstimate by me randomly at the table. It is from the conversations we had when we put together the 2040 plan in terms of trying to understand what drives population growth and where it is likely to come from.
I will leave it to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to deal with overseas development aid in more detail, but if there is one thing he and I want to do while we are in this Department it is to leave behind a total change in direction in terms of Ireland's contribution to overseas aid. Developed countries such as Ireland have an obligation not just to give what they can and decide on this year on year, where overseas development aid has to compete with health care, education and all of the other issues, but actually to make much more fundamental commitments that a certain percentage of wealth in a country would be assigned to help people with little or nothing in various parts of the world involved in conflict and desperately tragic and exposed circumstances. We would like to set Ireland on a course that is very clear. This requires a financial commitment from the Government over time to get to where we promised we would be, which is to reach 0.7% of gross national income in Ireland. This will take some time because we are a little above 0.3% at present. It is important to be realistic in terms of what is possible, but I would like us to have a very ambitious plan in this regard. We are working to get a plan together that I can bring to the Government soon. I will be very happy to come before the committee again to talk about this once it is done. The work of the committee on assessing our overseas aid programme and the report it published is very helpful in this regard. We will also launch a White Paper process on the overseas aid development programme, which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will speak about. Obviously we want the continuing input from all political parties and the committee. I have spoken about many other areas, but the questions strayed outside programme A so I hope we will be a lot quicker on programmes B, C, D and E.