Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade (Revised)

We will now resume in public session. In this part of today's meeting we will consider Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade and Vote 27 - International Co-operation, Revised Estimates for 2018, and report back to the Dáil. I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, and also Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon. I also welcome the officials from the Department and thank them for the briefing material forwarded in advance of today's meeting. The proposed format of today's meeting is to deal with Vote 28 on a programme by programme basis. At the outset of the consideration of each of the programmes, the Minister can give an overview of the programme. We will then open the issue to members for questions. On completion of Vote 28 we will proceed to Vote 27 and consider it in a similar manner. I ask members to ask their questions on the specific programme in order to progress in an orderly and efficient manner.

Before proceeding to the business of the meeting, I remind members and those in the Public Gallery that their mobile phones should be switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee room even if on silent mode.

I remind members of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside of the Houses or any official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members have been forwarded advance briefing of the various programmes. We will now proceed sequentially. Programme A is "to serve people at home and abroad and to promote reconciliation and co-operation".

I will give a general introduction first and then go through the different sectors - A, B, C, D and E - as the Chairman has asked. I will then ask the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to deal with Vote 27, which is concerned with the overseas aid development and diaspora budgets, which is the bigger spending area of our Department. I am very pleased to be here this afternoon to present to the select committee the Revised Estimates from my Department for 2018. I would also like to wish everybody a very happy International Women's Day. I will focus on Vote 28, the Vote of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, will address the committee afterwards on Vote 27 on international co-operation.

On Vote 27, the Government is strongly committed to Ireland's overseas aid development co-operation programme and to its place at the heart of our foreign policy. The current programme for Government sets out our ambition to chart a clear pathway towards the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNI in ODA. I will be bringing proposals in this respect to Government in the near future.

Do any of the Tánaiste's officials have a copy of his opening statement? We were not provided with it.

My apologies. Members will have seen the advance briefing notes provided by my Department on the two Votes, which summarise the main activities and priorities under each strategic programme. For 2018, the overall gross estimate for the foreign affairs and trade group of Votes, which is Vote 27 and Vote 28, is €738 million compared with €715 million in 2017, which is an overall increase of €23 million or 3.2%.

The Vote 28 priorities for 2018 include the passport reform programme, Brexit, Northern Ireland, provision for urgent capital building and security works in our missions abroad, continuing investment in the Department’s global ICT network and addressing increased operating cost pressures abroad across the mission network, which is growing all the time. I announced last October the decision by Government to open six new missions as part of the doubling our global footprint by 2025 initiative. The Government’s overarching ambition under this initiative is to ensure that Ireland is well-positioned to secure our national interests, particularly our economic interests, globally. The Taoiseach’s intention is that a finalised plan will be ready for consideration by Government shortly. Our expanded network will enhance Ireland’s visibility globally, extend our influence and position us for trade and investment growth in new and existing markets. It will also benefit our citizens travelling overseas and will involve reaching out to our diaspora and exploring new platforms for engagement. It will also involve us in political debates and considerations in parts of the world, in particular the Middle East, which is the main reason we will be opening an embassy in Jordan.

The programme structure for Vote 28 corresponds with the Department’s strategy statement 2016-2019 and also mirrors the priorities set out in the foreign policy review document "The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World". It sets out the Department’s work in five priority areas: supporting our people, engaging actively in the European Union, promoting our values, advancing our prosperity and strengthening our influence. These correspond directly with expenditure programmes A to E in the 2018 Revised Estimates volume.

As has been proposed, I will now make some very short introductory comments on programme A to open the discussion. When we complete our discussion of the programme, I will then take each of the following programmes in sequence, as the Chairman has asked me to do.

Programme A is to serve our people at home and abroad and to promote reconciliation and co-operation. Work under this programme includes the effective delivery of passport and consular services for our citizens; supporting our emigrants and deepening engagement with our diaspora; sustaining peace and enhancing reconciliation and political progress in Northern Ireland; increasing North-South and British-Irish co-operation. The amount allocated for current expenditure under programme A in 2018 is €73.4 million compared with €69.7 million in 2017, which is an increase of 7.4%. The programme is about Irish citizens at home and abroad and covers a number of key priority areas for the Department. Given the breadth of issues covered by this programme, I can only briefly touch on some of them in my short introduction.

Our consular services and consular assistance includes a group of people who many committee members are familiar with as a result of some of the cases they have raised. Providing high-quality consular assistance and other consular services to Irish citizens at home and abroad remains a key priority of the Department. The Department and our mission network responded to around 3,000 serious consular assistance cases in 2017, including 320 cases where Irish citizens died while overseas. The year also saw the Department responding to a series of terrorist incidents in which Irish citizens were caught up including in London, Barcelona and Melbourne and major adverse weather crises in the US and the Caribbean. A high priority for my Department is ensuring that the travelling Irish public is well-informed about risks and has access to accurate and relevant information and advice. My Department’s TravelWise smartphone app is helping to keep Irish citizens informed and safe while abroad and gives us an additional means of contact with citizens in the event of an emergency. I encourage all members of the committee and indeed all public representatives to do everything possible to make the public aware of the TravelWise app. If one uses it, one will see it is very pragmatic and useful. Many people do not realise the extent to which our consular services are working every day or that we assisted in 3,000 cases last year. If one thinks of 3,000 cases, one will realise how many are being assisted and supported every day. The number is significant. If one thinks of the 320 cases in which Irish citizens died abroad, many in accidents and very tragic circumstances, one gets an understanding that our consular services are involved in very difficult cases virtually every day and are working with families and individuals.

The passport service issued 781,375 passports in 2017. This represented an increase of over 6% on the previous year. We expect the number of passport applications to continue to increase throughout 2018. Applications in recent weeks are already showing increases of over 10% on last year. Last year was the highest ever. We will probably be 10% up on that this year. They are dramatic numbers for our passport services to deal with. There have been tens of thousands more applications. The increase in demand is driven by a number of factors including a general increase in the number of Irish residents travelling abroad and a growing population. There are about 54,000 more people in Ireland now than 12 months ago.

Our population is growing by at least 50,000 annually, which means over the next two decades there will be an extra million people, which is why we have a 2040 plan. It also why the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is gearing up capacity around passport delivery and also consular services. The increase in demand is driven by a number of factors. There is a growing population and a significant rise in applications from Northern Ireland and the UK, driven by concerns around Brexit. Last week’s snow has impacted on demand also and the passport service is making every effort to deal with urgent cases. The Passport Office had to close for a couple of days last week because people could not get to work. We have sanctioned overtime this week to try to make up for the loss of time, as it has put a lot of stress on the system. People have expectations of receiving their passports in a particular timeframe and we are trying to meet those expectations as best we can.

Our online passport application service was launched in March 2017 as part of the passport reform programme and offers the convenience of an online application system for adult applicants who wish to renew their passport, anywhere in the world. It is planned to extend the online application facility to further categories of applicants, including first-time applicants and children. The 2018 allocation includes a capital allocation of €5.5 million in respect of the passport reform programme, which is money well spent.

I will now turn to the emigrant support programme and diaspora issues, which Deputy Darragh O'Brien in particular has raised with me several times. Through the emigrant support programme budget of €11.595 million annually, the Government provides funding to non-profit organisations and projects to support our most vulnerable emigrants abroad, to strengthen global Irish communities, and to facilitate the development of closer and more strategic links between Ireland and the global Irish. This important budget supports the Government’s vision of a vibrant, diverse global Irish community, connected to Ireland and to each other.

I commend the work of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, in this important area in his role with special responsibility for the diaspora, and he will take any questions that members have on these matters. He is doing a very good job in this area.

This programme deals with matters relating to Northern Ireland and delivers funding for projects to bolster peace and reconciliation on this island. In the context of the current political challenges within Northern Ireland and the potential impact of Brexit, it will be no surprise that this area of work is a particular focus of my Department and a particular priority for me personally.

The interests of the island as a whole and protecting the gains of the peace process remain a priority for the Government in the Brexit negotiations. The Government’s priority is to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement is not in any way disturbed by the UK’s exit from the EU and to maintain the open and effectively invisible Border, which I think everyone, including those in Britain, wants. Finding a way to do it, apart from using the backstop which has been agreed, will be the big challenge to these negotiations. If that is not possible, the backstop is there and we will insist on using it, but our first priority is to work with the British Government to find an option A or options A and B that can deal with the Irish Border issues comprehensively as well as the east-west trade interest that Ireland has in the context of Brexit.

In 2017, the reconciliation fund made grants to more than 100 projects, supporting organisations across the community and voluntary sector, most based in Northern Ireland. These groups are building meaningful links across communities, addressing the issues that are impacting on their lives, including sectarianism, and are working to create better understanding between people and traditions on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is clear that this work is as important as ever. In recognition of this, the Government has protected the reconciliation fund’s budget in recent years and included a commitment in the Stormont House Agreement to maintain its annual budget at €2.7 million.

I welcome any comments or questions from committee members on programme A.

I thank the Minister. I first call on Deputy Darragh O'Brien and remind members that we must stick with questions and not statements.

We are under some time pressure. It would be unusual that members would make statements, anyway.

I will be obedient.

We will also stick to discussion of programme A.

Tuigim. The Minister is welcome. Following the Chairman's instructions, I will confine myself to questions. I know that it is the Minster's first time before the committee apart from legislation, there having been a Bill when he took over. It would be opportune for us to have a committee meeting around some of the areas which the Minister covered in order that we might cover them in more detail.

I would be very happy to do that. I am conscious that we have not had the time for a proper policy debate.

We can do it when we are not under time pressure.

We lost a meeting last week due to the inclement weather.

I understand that. That is fair enough. We can reschedule it. The Minister referred to the consular staff and the service in particular, and the work that is being done here in Dublin by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I want to record my appreciation of this. Unfortunately, we all have instances where tragedies happen to families that we represent. The professionalism, efficiency and compassion shown at very difficult times is exceptional. It makes me proud and I mentioned it to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, in the Dáil.

I have raised the issue of the emigrant support programme. I am disappointed that there is no increase there. I note there were 490 applications, which is an increase from 319 different groups last year. What is the approval rate? It is a really good programme and I have seen it work. I have seen it on visits to London, Chicago and other places. It is very valuable and a very good link. Will the Minister comment on why we have not increased the funding?

The passport service has had its funding increased 6% year on year up to the end of 2017. It is very pressurised and I understand that. Does the Minister feel he has the resources required to meet the increased demand which will continue to increase this year? Last year well in excess of 10% of the passports issued were issued to people in the North and Britain, and that will increase further.

Will there be an additional requirement for the public services card to be used when applying for a new passport, whether it is a first passport or a renewal? If there is a plan to do this, would it mean that there was a different requirement for those applying for passports outside the Republic of Ireland, in the North of Ireland or Britain?

Looking to the Brexit challenges, it is a shame that we cannot have a policy debate here now. I was in Brussels the week before last and have met some of the additional staff who have been employed to deal with the challenges of Brexit in our permanent representation there. They are doing a superb job. Over this year and up to March 2019, every priority must be given to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that it is staffed and resourced. When Fianna Fáil, the main Opposition party, has travelled abroad, it has given the Government approach on Brexit and Ireland's challenges with Europe and we are showing a united front. I want to make sure that the Minister's Department is happy that it has the resources needed.

The Minister referred to official development assistance, ODA, in his opening remarks and the commitment to reach 0.7% of gross national income, GNI. We have discussed this several times and all parties are in agreement. The Minister said that he would publish a roadmap on this, which is something that I have called for. When does he intend to do that? It might be a question for the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon.

The Minister referred to the additional six missions which he announced will open and the doubling of the global footprint by 2025. I was told that doubling does not necessarily mean the doubling of the number of embassies or consulates.

I have tried to grapple with that answer. What does it mean and how many embassies or consulates will we reopen? I welcome that the Minister has stated that he will publish a plan in that regard, which I presume will go to Cabinet to be agreed. Will he publish that plan and the criteria on which the decisions are made? I wish to know how we decide where embassies are opened. I welcomed the openings of embassies in Bogota, Mumbai and elsewhere but it is important for us to know the rationale for opening embassies and what our priorities are in that regard. Will the Minister publish that plan and, if so, when?

The briefing notes with which members have been provided indicate an increased allocation of 17% for programme B and 7.4% for programme A. What are the criteria for deciding upon allocation for 2018? The allocation for some programmes has increased, while for others it has decreased. On the new missions, some will be full embassies and some will not. On what basis is that being decided?

On the civil society groups, we met several which are working in the North on peace and reconciliation and there is no doubt that they are carrying out very valuable work. However, some have been there for a very long time and there may be no space for new groups that might have a different idea or approach or, because they have been doing something differently, might like to present a new and innovative idea. Is there space for such groups in that regard?

I welcome the Minister and the Minister of State. I wish to start on a negative note, which will be of no surprise to the Minister. Members yesterday received a briefing note from the Department which outlined that the overall gross Estimate for Votes 27 and 28 is €738 million, as the Minister stated, but we have no independent analysis of how that money is being spent. I have raised this issue with previous Ministers. I am uncomfortable with the process in that regard. It is a huge amount of money and we have a responsibility in terms of governance and oversight but do not even have a copy of the Minister's speech. That is an appalling way to treat members of the committee. I do not believe that the briefing note on the spend which has been given to members was only available from yesterday. Members have been to other countries to discuss parliamentary oversight and so on and how that is carried out there. We would be uncomfortable if we observed another country dealing with such a large amount of money in this fashion. I have previously complained about the process in regard to the European defence fund and other breakdowns and that is similar to these huge sums we are being asked to approve under general headings without knowing the detail of how the money is being spent. It is a fair point but I have laboured it long enough.

Like others, I thank the Minister's office, the Passport Office and the consular service for their efforts in regard to passport issues. The Minister mentioned problems caused by the recent snowfall. One person who could not get a passport because staff were unable to get into the office contacted me. He was unable to join his family on their planned trip to New Zealand because he could not get a passport. I do not know how one can legislate or provide for such situations. I am sure others were also affected and I welcome that the Minister is contemplating additional overtime for staff and so on to deal with the backlog. I welcome the €5 million increase for the passport reform programme and I understand that big reforms have been undertaken in recent years.

Recent figures indicate that 53,715 people in the North applied for Irish passports in 2015, 67,582 in 2016 and 80,964 in 2017. Staff in the Passport Office are doing a fantastic job under immense great pressure as a result of Brexit but the Government must acknowledge that increased demand. Has money been set aside to establish a passport office in the North? That could take the form of a dedicated citizen hub providing a place for passport applications but also a valuable resource in terms of assisting Irish citizens with their legal rights and entitlements in regard to Brexit.

I will be very brief. Like the previous speakers, I compliment and acknowledge the tremendous work of our offices and embassies abroad. Some 320 Irish people died abroad last year. When a Deputy gets a phone call informing him or her of such a death, he or she contacts the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a representative of which contacts the family of the deceased within minutes. That phone call from the Department to an individual who might have lost somebody abroad means an awful lot to the family and I wish to acknowledge that, as well as the tremendous work done by departmental officials abroad in dealing with serious injuries or deaths. I recently dealt with a case where there were no Irish diplomatic, embassy or consular staff in a particular country but the embassy in a neighbouring country dealt with the incident very effectively and did tremendous work, which I wish to acknowledge. As mentioned by previous speakers, the Minister plans to open six new missions abroad. What are the criteria for choosing where to open those missions and what determines whether they will be full embassies or mission offices?

On passports, I compliment the staff of the Passport Office. I have had occasion to contact the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, in a panic regarding passports. However, 780,000 is a huge number of passports to be processed and the staff in the office must be complimented. They have not seriously let anyone down in terms of providing a passport and I compliment them in that regard. I welcome the Minister's comments in regard to being able to apply for a passport online from anywhere in the world. That is a brilliant service as passports previously had to be sent to people's family homes.

One issue on which I hope the Chairman will give me latitude on is the possibility of allowing online applications for driving licences. If one can apply for a passport online, why can one not do so for a driving licence? I was contacted this week by a young lady living in New York whose driving licence has expired. Unfortunately, she is there illegally and cannot do without a driving licence. It is the first thing for which one is asked when stopped by a police officer. There is to be a clampdown on people in the United States who do not have their driving licence with them when stopped by a police officer and such people are going to be pulled in. I appreciate this point does not directly relate to the issues under discussion but I ask that the Government find a solution to that problem such that people abroad will be able to renew their driving licences online. I am not saying that one should be able to make a first-time application online but the Government should come up with a solution to give Irish people living abroad a chance to renew their licence. It is a huge issue which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, has encountered while dealing with the Irish abroad. I know of a case involving a young person who had to come home from Australia to renew his Irish driving licence and then fly back out again. Will the Government please give some consideration to that issue, in honour of God?

I am not sure God has much to do with it but-----

We are coming up to Easter and St. Patrick's Day. The Minister should have a bit of faith.

-----I will take that on board.

Are any projections available within the Department which indicate that the growth in passport demand will continue? Members know some of the demand is as a result of Brexit. Is that spike expected to continue? The online service is very successful. Are there plans to roll out more online passport services? It would be very helpful if there were.

As regards North-South co-operation and the funding provided in that regard, the same funding is to be provided in 2018 as was allocated in 2017. As all members know, there are difficulties in communities in Northern Ireland. That programme has been very successful over the years in helping some of the most disadvantaged communities, and those of us who have regular interaction with both communities and traditions in Northern Ireland know that such funding can be critical in assisting a regeneration of communities and that it is an area that needs additional attention.

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.

I thank the Minister.

There will be disappointment in some countries they will not get an embassy or consulate. It is a few years since we made an official visit to Iran during the previous Dáil. We met the foreign Minister and various other officials there, and we know how keen they were to have an embassy. I also wonder about countries that have an embassy here but we do not have a presence in their countries, such as Cuba, for example, although I know we cannot be everywhere.

From our visits, we know other countries want to do business with us because they trust and respect us, but there is a huge challenge, particularly in two of the places the Minister mentioned, namely, Colombia and Mumbai. I am surprised he spoke about Colombia and stability. We meet quite a number of groups, formally and informally. We have met civil society groups from Colombia and some dreadful things are happening in their local communities with farmers. Multinational companies are coming in and there are land grabs. There is a lack of respect for indigenous peoples and their way of life. It will be challenging for Ireland. We do not want to lose the respect and high esteem in which we are held. The Department has produced a human rights and business plan. We speak about trade missions, and I hope we can be a leader when it comes to decent work and workers' rights. We know about the type of work that goes on in some of those countries, and it will be hugely challenging for us to maintain the good standing we have.

I have some very quick questions on the requirement for a public services card for a passport. I know we have thrown a lot at the Minister. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister will publish what he is going to do in 2019 with regard to the opening of new embassies and consulates. If the footprint also includes, which it does, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the Ireland House type initiative, will this form part of it? Will what the Department will publish in 2019 have a business reach as well?

So the Department is looking at all of this. I will leave it at that.

On that question, the global footprint project very much involves the agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, IDA Ireland and a number of the arts organisations.

We are trying to use all of the tools Ireland has to reach out in a more effective and ambitious way in order to extend Irish influence and create opportunities. It is being led by the Taoiseach's Department, but it is supported by mine.

On the public services card, since 29 March 2016 the Passport Office has required all first-time applicants aged 18 years and over who are resident in Ireland to submit a copy of their public services card. It is not anything new and also applies to a small number of adult passport applicants whose passports were issued before 1 January 2006 and reported as lost, stolen or damaged. The measure has been an important step in providing protection against fraud and identity theft and upholding the integrity of the Irish passport. All passport applications from Irish citizens will continue to be subject to rigorous identification and entitlement checks. The introduction of the PSC requirement has allowed the Passport Office to dispense with the requirements to supply certain additional documentation and reduces the overall volume of documentation Irish citizens must submit when applying for a passport. The purpose of the public services card has been twisted in the political debate, but it tries to create a more efficient system to provide services for people quickly and with the minimum amount of bureaucracy.

On 17 July 2017 the Government agreed that, by the fourth quarter of this year, all adult applicants resident in the State who wished to renew their passport would require a public services card. We recognise that many changes are happening in passport delivery. We were asked to introduce the change at the start of this year, but I said that was not viable as too much was going on in the Passport Office in terms of efficiency improvements. By the end of the year, however, we will I hope be able to introduce the requirement which we think makes sense from the point of view of efficiency.

The Deputy also asked about passport applications from abroad. The public services card requirement does not and will not apply to Irish citizens who are normally resident outside the State. They include people living in Northern Ireland.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked about choosing embassies and countries. One cannot choose countries solely on the basis of being comfortable with everything they do. There are question marks against Iran, for example, but many people would be able to make a coherent case for opening an embassy there at some stage in the future, as practically every European country has an embassy there. There are challenges in post-conflict Colombia, but it is trying to build a stable society and economy, in which task we want to be able to support it. Once one moves beyond comfortable territory such as with EU member states which all apply the same rules and into the Arab world, North Africa and Latin America one will have challenges, but having an embassy in a country gives us a say and an opportunity to have conversations we would otherwise not have. They may be on human rights issues or may help us to better understand the challenges certain countries face. Morocco has an embassy here. We will have to look at reciprocating in the future because we do not currently have any embassy in that part of Africa. It does not mean that we agree with Morocco on everything, but creating relationships through proper diplomatic channels allows us to extend our reach and become relevant in political debates in different parts of the world. It is easy to refer to problems in countries in other parts of the world which have a different history from ours, but the point in expanding our global footprint is to move out of our comfort zone and create new friendships and partnerships. On the back of this there will be trading opportunities for Irish businesses and businesses that wish to use Ireland as a gateway to the European Union.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister of State a question about the emigrant support programme.

As the Tánaiste said, the diaspora will play a critical role in expanding our global footprint. As there has been a significant increase in the number of applications from diaspora support groups across the world, we need to move beyond the figure of €11.59 million. There will be a significantly enhanced budget to double our global footprint as we need to build the sense of a global community among the diaspora.

There is an absolute necessity to increase the figure substantially. I also agree with the Minister that we should increase the level of official development assistance, but within the overall budget for foreign affairs we could do a lot more than provide €11.59 million and I believe there is the political will to do so. I asked how many of the 490 applicants had to be turned away because we did not have the funding sought. If we are reaching out to the diaspora and asking it to do more for us, it should be a two-way street. I have met many of the diaspora in Chicago, London, Manchester and Lisbon and they do a fantastic job. The programme is very valuable and we need to value it more. We need to utilise it better and put more into it.

The traditional destinations of investment have been the United States and the United Kingdom, but very large diaspora communities are developing in the Middle East, South Africa and other locations and we need to be able to grow the budget to respond to their needs.

A 50% increase in the allocation for diaspora affairs is substantial, but we do not get a sense of where it is being spent. That is the difficulty.

There is a 50% increase in subhead A5, support for Irish emigrant services. On the question of accountability, we have an independent audit system that assesses how we spend money. The Secretary General has to submit audited accounts to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is a robust system for how Departments spend money. While this is a political discussion about how we prioritise spending which is a different issue, I would not like the suggestion the Department was spending money without an independent audit and assessment to go unchecked.

The Department is supposed to obtain the agreement of this committee, but if the committee does not have the necessary skills or the time to do so, it is a meaningless rubber-stamping job. In the years I have been a member of the committee we have simply rubber-stamped the spending of huge amounts of money, the expenditure of which was not really assessed by the committee. I am not saying it would have been any different if we had received the information a few days earlier, but a huge amount of money is involved.

The big spend is in the area of current expenditure.

The programme can be broken into one thirds - salaries, programmes and other. Breaking it up item by item, there has not been significant change year on year, rather there has been a change of emphasis. There is nothing to stop the committee from looking in more detail at any one of these sections and asking me to come back to speak about why we are prioritising or spending money in each area. That is what we are giving a flavour of today. There are so many areas that we cover that we could spend a long time speaking about any one of them, from the diaspora to overseas development aid to passport services to consular services and so on. We have looked at the issue and do not see any area where we are not trying to provide value for money through reform, driving efficiencies and using technology. The passport services are a really good example in that regard.

The Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General have a very important role to play in the examination of expenditure and where public funding goes. On the documentation provided, the committee secretariat has contacted the Department, but the loss of a few days last week also caused delays. We all agree that we should receive documentation much earlier.

I accept that and we will ensure it will happen.

The estimated time for completion of this meeting will be tomorrow if we keep going as we are. As we have spent over an hour on one programme, I ask the Minister, the Minister of State and my committee colleagues to, please, be mindful of the time. We will move to programme B.

I will ensure the committee will receive my full speaking note which I will try to summarise.

Programme B provides the framework for the Department's role in securing Ireland's influence in EU outcomes through maintaining and growing strong relationships with EU institutions and other member states. The focus of work under the programme in 2018 will be on safeguarding Ireland’s interests in the broader context of the Brexit negotiations, both with regard to the finals status of the United Kingdom outside the European Union and the future direction and policies of the Union. Equally, the programme supports Ireland’s contribution to the European Union's global engagement on peace, security, trade and development, as well as security in the wider European region.

The allocation for the programme in 2018 is €27.3 million, compared with a figure of €22.3 million in 2017. It represents an increase of €5 million or 17.5%, reflecting the top priority attached to Brexit and our place in Europe. I can go through in some detail where the money will go. We have had to gear up significantly for the challenge of Brexit and I hope members are seeing the results in how Ireland is negotiating. It has meant more people, infrastructure, time and travel to Brussels. We are also gearing up to ensure Ireland will have its say in the debate on the future of Europe. All of these tasks require more resources and that, essentially, is what is happening.

There is much in this programme which is crucial. The 17.5% increase is absolutely required and we fully understand the reason for it. We could have a full discussion on the programme and its priority. I know that the Tánaiste must report to other committees also, but at the appropriate time it would be really useful for him to come back to speak about the programme, particularly the future of Europe element. I know that there is also a European affairs committee. It is important as the European Union and the Commission are moving forward very fast. I would like to see the European Union moving forward and it is, but it seems to be moving forward at great pace. The next few months are crucial with respect to the negotiations. It goes without saying that I wish the Tánaiste and our negotiating team all the best in what will be a critical phase. At the appropriate time I would like us to come back to the element of how we are approaching not just the negotiations but also the future of Europe piece. I am happy with the figures and do not have specific questions to ask, but I do not want people to think that in not commenting on it we do not afford it the absolute priority it should have.

I was going to ask about the increase in pay, but it has been indicated that this programme has to do with Brexit. As section B.3 relates to the treaty, does it cover the issue of Ireland's involvement in the Permanent Structured Co-operation, PESCO, arrangement? In section B.4 there is a 185% increase in spending compared with the figure for 2017. Supposedly, it is to inform and engage Irish citizens more with the European Union. Will the Tánaiste expand on that aspect? Is there a concern that people have become disenchanted with the European Union. Will the money be spent on glossy brochures about the Union and so on? On what will the money be spent?

With respect to section B.4 and EU engagement, much of it is linked with the debate on the future of Europe. As members know, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, is organising public meetings throughout the country, of which she has had a series. I believe she is in Letterkenny today. One of the problems with debates such as that on the future of Europe is that they often take place in a bubble in which like-minded people speak to each other about Ireland's commitment to the European Union and its future. When decisions are made on the back of some of these debates, the public responds in a way that suggests they were never told that the European Union was moving in that direction. It is one of the reasons we sometimes see disenchantment with how decisions are taken at a European level within European institutions and so on.

We know exactly what is going on in the debate on the future of Europe and want to try to include as many people as we can to ensure all stakeholders will have an opportunity to have an impact on whether a non-governmental organisation wants to extend the European Union's levels of ambitions on the continent of Africa, in the Middle East, in the areas of common security and defence, terrorism and radicalisation or the internal market for banking and financial services. All of these issues are being debated in the context of where the European Union is going and what it will look like in five and ten years's time. If we do not put resources in place to ensure there is a proper conversation taking place nationally, it will not happen and we would then be accused, after decisions are made, of having the elites make decisions. People will say they were never consulted. As a result of the lessons learned in the past, we are trying to address that issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, is doing a really good job in that respect, although it is difficult to generate much interest in the debate on the future of Europe when much of the debate is dominated by Brexit because of the tensions or drama surrounding the negotiations. We have seen a significant increase in percentage terms in the section, but it is still a relatively modest amount of money, given the importance of the issue.

Shall we proceed to programme C?

Programme C covers the Department's contribution to a more just world through the promotion and protection of human rights internationally and a more secure world based on a stable and secure rules-based international environment. Under the programme, 68% of current expenditure is made up of contributions to international organisations. My Department’s commitment to promoting international peace, security and human rights is channelled through programme C, for which there is a total allocation of €51.6 million in 2018, compared with a figure of €55.8 million in 2017, representing a reduction of €4.8 million which is due to reduced projected contributions to international organisations. It should be noted, however, that the allocation for administration under the programme has increased by just over €500,000. Most of the expenditure under the programme relates to Ireland's mandatory contributions to international organisations of which we are a member, including the United Nations. The 2018 Estimate reflects the best estimate at this time of the size of mandatory contributions due this year.

It should be noted, however, that the challenge in forecasting, in particular, the UN peacekeeping budget, which is the largest part of our payments to the UN, is not an easy one. It is difficult to estimate this in advance, as an existing peacekeeping operation might be expanded or reduced, depending on the circumstances, or a new one might be established. Also, UN contributions are invoiced in US dollars and, therefore, are subject to currency fluctuations.

Ireland is seeking election as a non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in June 2020 for the 2021-22 term. The campaign is already well under way and we are basing our campaign on Ireland's foreign policy credentials and strong international standing at the UN.

We continue to engage closely with the UN and other multilateral partners, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We are contributing to the work of our multilateral partners in targeted policy areas, such as peacekeeping, conflict resolution and conflict prevention, international development, disarmament and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

We will continue our efforts to make the UN and other multilateral institutions more effective in facing global regional and development challenges. Disarmament and non-proliferation issues will remain a priority in 2018, building on our active engagement and participation in international disarmament and non-proliferation in previous years.

We continue to advance human rights priorities and are making investments accordingly, particularly in terms of the solid record of achievements in the UN Human Rights Council in which Ireland is an active participant.

A key pillar of our international engagement under programme C is our input into the shaping and formulation of the European Union's common foreign and security policy, most notably at the monthly meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council in which I participate.

One can look at these headings without really knowing what exactly is involved. The next time we might be given an example. For example, on women post conflict, perhaps the Minister could give us a concrete specific example of what is happening there.

I was not disagreeing with embassies being open in countries such as Colombia or cities such as Mumbai. My point was it was an opportunity for Ireland to continue its stand on human rights and that human rights are not only for the foreign affairs part of Deputy Coveney's Ministry but also for the trade part.

Has the Minister a budget to campaign for the seat on the UN Security Council? We have seen the Security Council at its worst lately over Ghouta. We saw how ineffective it was. It was being held to ransom by those with a veto. We in the committee heard a presentation when we were preparing for our own review and Mr. David Donoghue appeared before us. It was interesting talking about the Security Council and how there had been moves to try to get rid of that veto in order that it would not be allowed on occasions when a severe humanitarian crisis was being discussed.

Regarding the United Nations and our contribution, what has been the impact of the funding cut by the United States on overseas development aid? I am sure it has also cut funding to the United Nations. Is there pressure on other governments to try to make that up or has there been any contact from the United Nations? It is appalling the way President Trump is cutting overseas development aid. He should be increasing it, not cutting it.

I wish we had more information there. I am fine with it but I would like to know exactly where, by organisation, the money is going. One does not get a sense of that at all.

With regard to funding of the United Nations, my understanding is that those are mandatory contributions.

With that modus operandi, is there a danger of that being badly wounded if President Trump carries out his proposal to reduce dramatically funding to the UN?

Yes. The contributions that we make to the UN each year are mandatory contributions and they fluctuate slightly. For example, a big part of UN expenditure is on peacekeeping operations. It is a multi-billion euro expenditure programme. Obviously, Ireland benefits from that in the context of our interest in UN peacekeeping operations, such as UNIFIL and UNDOF. Those operations are all funded through UN funds to which Ireland makes a contribution.

There is concern within the UN generally that were the US to reduce its funding to the UN significantly in percentage terms, given the US provides nearly 40% of funding to the UN and it is a significant funder, it would have major consequences. There is a reform programme under way, that the US is buying into and supporting, in respect of value for money and ensuring there is no duplication to try to break down some of the silos in the UN that undoubtedly need to be challenged. We need to ensure, however, that the output in the form of the results the UN achieves in helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world is not reduced in the effort to ensure efficiency and value for money. Unfortunately, there are more conflicts and crises for the UN to deal with than we have seen for many years. For a start, there are multiple famines, which are inexcusable in this day and age, and for the most part are preventable if there is intervention at the right time.

Potential reductions by the US in contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, are a major concern for Ireland and for many other countries. UNRWA is the UN organisation that essentially supports Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. Historically, the US is a big funder of UNRWA. I have visited UNRWA schools within Palestinian territories, as I am sure have members of this committee. They are impressive and effective ways of educating young Palestinians, who, by the way, are really well educated generally, which is why it is such a tragedy that we cannot allow a state of Palestine to grow and build sustainably for itself. The immediate concern - I will stand corrected on this - is that between 70% and 80% of the population in Gaza are reliant in some way or other on UNRWA support through health care, education or food supports. Consequently, because the US is a very significant funder a significant reduction would have significant consequences. This is so much the case that Ireland will be participating, as will many other countries, in a funding conference for UNRWA, led by Sweden and Jordan, which will be held in Rome in a few weeks' time. I think I am right on that detail - I will happily stand corrected if I am not - but I think that is where it is happening.

Incidentally, this year we have already committed €5 million to UNRWA. I signed off on that a few weeks ago. We would encourage other countries to do the same. Most important, we would encourage - I have directly asked - the US to reconsider its decision to reduce funding for UNRWA. Undoubtedly, in the medium term, there is reform required of the role that UNRWA plays because people should not be refugees forever. Many Palestinian refugees, unfortunately for them and their families, have been refugees for a lifetime. There is a need for a transition in time from a refugee organisation to a support organisation that can allow a Palestinian government to be able to provide for health care and education in its own territories for its own people.

However, that is no consolation to a parent who has a child in a UNRWA school today or a woman who is relying on a UNRWA health care clinic, living in very difficult conditions in Gaza or in any of the other refugee camps today. I am sorry about the detail on the UNRWA, but I feel strongly about it.

Finally, I was asked a specific question on the UN Security Council campaign. Our UN Security Council campaign is currently being managed within existing resources but before the election in 2020 an extra spend undoubtedly will be required, which we will have to factor into our budget. With respect to our last UN Security Council campaign in 2000, additional staffing needs at that time were supplied by redeployment and the creation of temporary posts. Approximately €1.5 million was allocated to cover additional costs relating to that campaign. We will probably spend a little more than that this time. If Ireland wants to be at the table where major decisions are taken on global issues, which is the UN Security Council, it must win a very competitive campaign process. There are two places available and three countries are going for those places, namely, Ireland, Norway and Canada. We happen to be competing with two very influential countries in the UN structure. It is not an easy task but we are well placed to be able to be in the top two if we focus on a well run campaign, which is what we are trying to do.

I have a question about the destruction of UNRWA-funded and Irish Aid-funded schools in the West Bank. The Minister has received correspondence on that and it was raised previously. Have we or UNRWA received any compensation from the Israelis for UNRWA-funded or Irish Aid-funded schools that were destroyed recently?

The direct answer is "No".

I am not sure that it was UNRWA schools-----

I believe it was an Irish Aid funded school the last time.

-----that were demolished. Belgium and the Netherlands have raised serious concerns with the Israelis about projects that have been destroyed. In the case of a solar panel project which the Netherlands funded in Gaza, where the panels were confiscated by the Israeli military, I understand that some of them have subsequently been returned.

Recently, and the officials will know about this and I received correspondence and pictures about it, a school that was co-funded by the Irish Government was demolished by the Israelis. The Minister is aware of that. I know the Minister raised it with the Israelis but has he received a response on any compensation?

We have not received any compensation. I have raised the general issue of demolitions in what is called Area C of the West Bank with the Israelis. We are very critical of that and in my view it should not be happening. However, Ireland is not the only country that has raised concerns on this issue.

We will now move to programme D.

The Department's work under this programme will focus on leveraging our resources to drive job creation, exports, inward investment and the tourism and education market. There will be a particular focus in 2018 on assisting Irish business in the context of the UK's exit from the EU. My Department’s commitment to advancing Ireland's trade and economic interests in Europe and internationally is set out in programme D. The amount allocated for the programme in 2018 is €34.1 million, representing an increase of €3 million on the 2017 allocation or an increase of 9.4%. The Department and our network missions play a pivotal role in enhancing our reputation and promoting Ireland’s economic interests overseas. The economy is now in good shape and growing strongly, with forecast GDP growth of 3.5% in 2018.

If you wish, Chairman, I can refer to programme E as well and we can discuss both at the same time. Would that be helpful?

The allocation under programme E in 2018 is €41.2 million compared with €39.3 million in 2017, an increase of €1.9 million or 4.9%. This programme covers the Department's work in marshalling its human and capital resources at home and abroad to maximise Ireland's influence internationally. It includes the management and development of staff, the management and mitigation of risk and compliance with statutory and legal obligations. The programme also covers communication by the Department of its policies, objectives and activities to citizens at home and abroad. On human resources, the Department is developing and delivering a new human resources strategy to build professional capacity and to support management in decision making, particularly on workforce planning and the effective deployment of staff at home and abroad. This is particularly important in responding to new challenges and opportunities afforded by an expanded global footprint.

There is a connection between programmes D and E so it might be helpful to take the two together. Neither has dramatic increases. They are modest percentage increases that reflect the increased pressures the Department is under.

That is fine. We will move on to programme F, appropriations-in-aid.

The total income under appropriations-in-aid in 2018 is estimated at over €45.2 million. The primary source of income that accrues directly to the Exchequer from my Department comes from passport application fees, which account for over 90% of all the receipts. If current passport application trends continue, this level of income is likely to be exceeded. Passport, citizenship, visa and other consular fees are set by way of statutory instrument issued under section 3 of the Diplomatic and Consular Officers (Provision of Services) Act 1993.

Earlier you said you would leave open the possibility of having a passport office in the province of Ulster. My constituency colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, put forward a proposal that a passport office should be opened in County Monaghan, which is centrally situated in the south of the province. I wholeheartedly agree with that. It had the endorsement of this committee as well. I would like if that could be considered.

Would you like to name a townland?

The office can be named after him.

I am being very generous to my neighbouring county. I did not advocate for Cavan at all but for the other part of my constituency.

That is very big of you.

I will have to leave the meeting now. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will deal with the aid budget. However, I would like to return to the committee to discuss some of the policy issues that have been raised, particularly the approach we are taking to Brexit and where we see it going, as well as the future of Europe. It would be good to bring the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, with me to discuss some of the things we are advocating at present. I believe the committee would be very interested in that.

That would likely be at the end of April or early in May.

I will be happy to do that.

Thank you.

I welcome this opportunity to present the 2018 Revised Estimates for Vote 27 for international co-operation. Vote 27 funds over 70% of Ireland’s official development assistance, ODA, programme, better known to the public as Irish Aid. The Vote provides the funding necessary to deliver on the Department's high level goal to work towards a fairer, more just, secure and sustainable world.

This year the Government has provided just over €707 million for ODA, an increase of €26 million on last year's allocation. This increased allocation builds on the momentum started in 2016 of increasing budget allocations to ODA in an incremental, measured and sustainable way. Some €500 million of the total will be managed through my Department while the remainder, an estimated €207 million, will be managed through other Departments and Ireland's share of the EU development co-operation budget. The sum of €707 million is a significant investment on behalf of the Irish taxpayer and represents a clear demonstration of the Government's firm commitment to the aid programme and to our stated position of increasing allocations as economic conditions permit.

In line with aspirations that are shared with this committee we remain committed to making incremental, sustainable and manageable progress towards achieving the 0.7% UN target by 2030, over the period of the sustainable development goals. This progress will build on Ireland's recognised role as a reliable and effective partner in contributing to ending global poverty and hunger, and in providing flexible humanitarian assistance to those most in need.

The committee will appreciate that reaching the 0.7% target will involve significant increases to the official development assistance, ODA, budget. Currently Ireland spends roughly 0.3% of gross national income, GNI, on ODA. The projected growth in aid budgets to match this ambition will be substantial and will require careful planning and consultation with other Departments and stakeholders, including Irish citizens and civil society organisations and, importantly, this committee.

I acknowledge the recent review undertaken by the committee. I was delighted to attend the presentation of the review. I reiterate that the conclusions and recommendations of that report will form a key input to the development of a new White Paper on international development co-operation. One of my Department’s key objectives this year is to produce a new White Paper on international development co-operation. This will inform an ambitious pathway towards making greater but sustainable progress on the UN target.

The international development context has evolved significantly over the past five years. The White Paper will build on our existing aid programme and will allow us to take stock of the implications of a fast-changing global environment and prioritise our role in fulfilling the ambitious international development policy agenda. Internal preparations and analysis are already under way for the White Paper. The process to develop the new policy will include a period of consultation from March to May across Government and with the public, following Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidelines. It is intended that the new policy will be produced by the end of July 2018 at the earliest.

I am passionate about Ireland’s development co-operation programme and in making sure that we excel in how we target and deliver our resources for maximum impact. Ireland and the Irish people can be very proud of our country’s impact. Any member who has travelled abroad would certainly echo that sentiment. We are reducing inequality, poverty and hunger. We bring our authentic experience as a people to this work as we continue delivering a world class programme, aimed at some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised people, helping to save lives, build livelihoods and bring lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those most in need and in times of crisis. I welcome comments and questions from committee members.

We have discussed this before and I welcome the stated commitment to get back on track to reach the 0.7% target. I know that there is a real opportunity now to seize the goodwill that is there and to seize the political consensus, certainly through this committee, which was evident at the report launch. It is a valuable report. When the Minister of State is working on the White Paper he could, while not rewriting it, use the committee's report as a basis. It is very important that we publish the roadmap, get political agreement on it, which I believe the Minister of State will get, and show it in euro and cents. We should not lose the opportunity right now to seize the goodwill to create that momentum. I understand that there were economic reasons the momentum slowed, but as we are moving forward, if we can start to show a real leap forward, it will mean a significant increase in one year to the next if we are to catch up in real terms. This is not from a selfish perspective. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State have already referred to the UN Security Council and the credibility that Ireland has abroad. I absolutely encourage the Minister of State to do this.

I reiterate my concerns around the third country arrangements and Ireland's funding of certain projects alongside the EU. I am very uncomfortable with the EU-Turkey arrangement. There are 15 or 16 other arrangements that the EU have been working on also which, as a European Union member state, Ireland is also part of. There is one arrangement for resettling refugees back to Afghanistan. There seems to be a bit of a carrot and stick approach at an EU level, not from Ireland, that unless conditions are adhered to and figures for repatriation happen, there will be a question over the annual action programmes, AAPs. When addressing the White Paper, I encourage the Minister of State to look afresh at entering into these arrangements. Can Ireland dissent from them? I believe we can. I do not believe Ireland should be going down that route. Where it makes sense for member states to pool resources, third country arrangements can be done, but we must be ultra-careful when it applies to refugee resettlement especially. I could not get a full answer on an absolute assurance that none of the money Ireland puts into that programme has gone on security measures as opposed to welfare for the person who is the refugee. Ireland carefully guards it reputation. I am, however, concerned about those third country arrangements, and I wanted to flag it here.

I have a query about subhead A5. Are we taking that now?

We are discussing it all under the one programme.

Subheads A1 and A2 are fine. With regard to A3 and the Africa section, I understand the focus is on the least developed countries, LDCs. Ireland met the UN target of spending at least 0.15% of its GNI on overseas development to LDCs in 2015. This does not seem to have happened in 2017. Will the Minister of State confirm that the target will be met in 2018?

Do the figures include any funding for new EU policies in Africa that are focused on migration or does it come under the European Development Fund, EDF? Again, this is deeply concerning and is an instrument of moving EU aid way from what I believe is genuine and sustainable development in favour of migration control, securitisation and the private sector in donor countries.

Section A4 is fine. I have a concern about the provision in subhead A5 of €5 million for the EU-Turkey deal. As other members have said, we have repeatedly stated our concern about and deep opposition to this deal. I believe it hampers the human rights of refugees and is effectively a bribe to Erdoan's autocratic regime. I also wish to flag the €45.6 million due to be spent on the EDF. Many members have raised this issue and are concerned about accountability for multilateral spending. I am thankful that we have had some meetings on the issue, and some of our concerns have been clarified. I am, however, concerned that the EDF is largely unaccountable and that Ireland does not have enough influence to ensure that its work is in line with Ireland's priorities. If, for example, we give money to the EDF, how can we say that 100% of Ireland's ODA is untied? The EDF has openly admitted that EU aid is partially tied. There is a contradiction there. It is probably a debate for another day but I have concerns about it.

The sum of €707 million is a lot of money but I welcome the increase of €26 million, especially when one goes abroad, particularly on the most recent visit to Malawi and Mozambique, and one sees the programmes in place to help the most vulnerable people in the world. I compliment our staff out there. I would like to see a lot more co-operation between nations to get better value for the money. This was evident in the Mozambique education programme administrated by the Irish office there. They have said that if they had more staff, they could do a lot more. They led the education programme in that country and I compliment the staff on that.

I have highlighted previously, and the Tánaiste has spoken about, the occupied Palestinian territories and the cut the United States of America has brought in. The Tánaiste has said an extra €5 million is allocated towards the occupied Palestinian territories. I welcome this. The world should come around to supporting the Palestinian people and putting extreme pressure on the United States of America to continue providing the aid towards that.

The briefing document on Irish Aid lists all the money allocated to various countries. In addition, €10 million has been allocated to the south-east Asia region programme, mainly in favour of Vietnam. Perhaps the Minister of State will outline why we are giving them €10 million and what programmes Ireland is promoting in Vietnam.

This committee recently published a report on reaching the target of 0.7% of gross national income in overseas development aid, ODA, recommending that the Government put forward a multi-annual plan to be submitted to the committee and the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. What is the Government's thinking on how the 0.7% target would be reached?

Policy coherence across Government also needs to be addressed. What measures are being put in place to ensure that policy coherence can be achieved? We referred to it on the day of the launch.

Colleagues have mentioned concern over the balance between bilateral and multilateral programmes. We understand we need to be involved in some multilateral programmes, but there is a strong view on the value of our bilateral programmes.

The final matter is something we all need to address. On the day we launched the report, we referred to communicating the value of the good work done by Irish Aid to the citizens at large. We could all more in that respect. If the Minister of State, the Department or Irish Aid have new measures or programmes they hope to put in place, they need to communicate their effectiveness and value and highlight the necessity to increase the aid in coming years.

All members referred to the target of 0.7% of GNI by 2030, which we are very ambitious to achieve. We need to be cognisant that it is an increase of approximately €100 million to €130 million per annum, moving from €707 million at the moment to about €2.5 billion by 2030. As Deputy Darragh O'Brien pointed out, the political support is already apparent from everyone in this room and from the political parties. I would argue that the public is equally supportive. Much of that public support stems from our history as a people. Reflecting on our history, we feel the need to reach out to communities and countries across the world in a spirit of solidarity and to respect that many countries are embarking on a journey upon which we embarked more than 100 years ago.

We have garnered considerable experience from that, particularly in the area of education. We have travelled a considerable journey in the past 50 years following the landmark decision by Donogh O'Malley in 1966. When I attended a pledging conference for education in Africa held in Dakar recently, it was wonderful to be able to reflect upon that experience and to commit to €25 million, to double our commitment to the global partnership for education over the next three years to reflect our history of having an educational landscape that changed Irish society and the Irish economy forever. It is an opportune time.

I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy O'Brien that we will need to nail down that definitive, staged, incremental move. Ultimately, that will happen as part of the White Paper process and members of the committee will have a critical role to play in that. I agree with the Cathaoirleach that the committee's report is a fantastic starting point to develop the White Paper strategy in coming months and it will feature heavily in that.

I had expected many of the members to voice concerns over Turkey. The resources we are providing in Turkey are not being used in any context for either security measures or border control. I want to make that clear. Of the €3 billion committed to programming under the facility, €60 million or 2% has been committed to the Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management to support migrants upon their return to Turkey, covering food, health care, transport and accommodation expenses. Some €20 million or 0.67% has been committed to the International Organization for Migration for its work in enhancing the capacity of the Turkish coastguard to carry our search and rescue operations in an effective manner. I want to make clear that none of our resources are being used for any security or border control matters. In addition to our active participation in the steering committee, Ireland has placed an officer from the development co-operation division of the Department in our embassy in Ankara with the specific brief to cover the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, including that facility for refugees in Turkey.

Deputy Crowe spoke about oversight in general and in particular relating to the European Development Fund, EDF. EU development assistance, including the EDF, is subject to various forms of rigorous monitoring and evaluation by a number of separate bodies: the European Court of Auditors, the EU's results-oriented monitoring and external independent review system, the EU's own evaluation unit, ultimately the European Parliament, and member states, obviously including Ireland. There is a significant audit and oversight structure in place to ensure that every cent we contribute to that is spent wisely and effectively.

Deputy Crowe also asked about the untied aspect. I can confirm that all the funds we channel through the European Union are used solely and uniquely for untied aid. That is a stipulation we include in any commitment we make.

What about the least developed countries in Africa and meeting the target?

We were just below the target in 2017, but overall our per capita contribution compared with other EU member states means we are one of the top contributors on a per capita basis. As we move towards the 0.7% by 2030, we would be anxious to reach that target consistently in the years to come.

Does the Minister of State believe we will achieve it in 2018?

Yes, we hope to. The Cathaoirleach asked about policy coherence. We need to achieve exactly that. If we use the collective experience and expertise across all Departments we can develop very strong policy coherence. That will form part of the White Paper process. If we look to an overarching structure to allow that to happen, the SDGs give us that excellent coherence. If we prepare our national implementation plan on the basis of complying with and supporting the achievement of the SDGs, I think it will give that coherence in the future.

I thank the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, as well as the Secretary General and his colleagues for attending today.