Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade (Revised)

I welcome members and viewers who may be watching proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the public session of the select committee. On 19 December 2018, the Dáil ordered that the Revised Estimates for Public Services in respect of the following Votes be referred to this committee for consideration. They are Vote 27 - International Co-operation and Vote 28 - Foreign Affairs and Trade. Today's meeting will consider the Revised Estimates for both Votes and report back to the Dáil.

On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and international development, Deputy Cannon. I also welcome officials from the Department and thank them for the briefing provided in advance of the meeting. The proposed format is that the committee will deal with the Votes on a programme-by-programme basis, the Tánaiste will give a brief overview of Vote 28, and, at the outset of the consideration of each programme, he will give an overview of the programme, including outlining any pressures likely to impact on his Department's performance or expenditure relating to the programme in 2019. The floor will then be open for questions from members. I ask that they put their questions on the specific programme so that we can progress in as orderly and efficient a manner as possible.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. They can also adversely affect television coverage and web streaming. Members received briefing documents on the Revised Estimates. I invite the Tánaiste to make his opening statement.

I am pleased to present to the committee the Revised Estimates for my Department for 2019. I will focus on Vote 28, which is the Vote for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, while the Minister of State will address the committee afterwards regarding Vote 27, which deals with international co-operation, which is the bulk of the expenditure for which my Department is responsible.

Last month, the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and I launched, A Better World, Ireland's new policy for international development, and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to making progress on delivering the UN 0.7 % target by 2030. A Better World sets out our vision for Ireland's contribution to international development looking forward to 2030 and is a statement of Ireland's commitment to global citizenship. Expanding our development co-operation is an investment in a better, safer and more sustainable planet.

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 expenditure programme corresponding with my Department's high-level goals.

For 2019, the overall gross Estimate for the foreign affairs and trade group of Votes, namely Votes 27 and 28, is €802 million compared with €754 million in 2018, This is an overall increase of €48 million, or 6.4%. The Vote 28 allocation sees an overall increase of €19 million, or 8%. The Vote 28 priorities for 2019 include, as one might expect Brexit, the passport reform programme and the operational side of a passport service dealing with a significant increase in the number of applications, Northern Ireland, the expansion of the overseas mission network under the Global Ireland 2025 initiative, provision for urgent capital building and security works at our missions abroad, continuing investment in the Department’s global ICT network and addressing increased operating cost pressures abroad across the mission network.

Understandably, budget 2019 had a particular focus on Brexit readiness measures and further initiatives and information have been rolled-out since then. I secured additional funding for my Department to increase staffing and capacity at headquarters and in key Irish embassies and for the Brexit preparedness communications team, which has been active. Under Global Ireland 2025, I am pleased that we have been able in recent months to open new embassies and consulates general in Vancouver, Wellington, Santiago, Bogota, Mumbai and Amman with openings to follow this year in Cardiff, Frankfurt and Los Angeles. The Government's overarching ambition under this initiative is to ensure that Ireland is well positioned to secure our national interests, particularly economic interests, globally. 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.

The programme structure for Vote 28 corresponds with the Department's strategy statement 2017 to 2020 and mirrors the priorities as set out in our foreign policy document, The Global Island: Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World, which sets out the Department’s work in five priority areas: supporting our people, engaging actively in the EU, promoting our values, advancing our prosperity and strengthening our influence. These correspond directly with expenditure programmes At to E in the 2019 Revised Estimates Volume, which the committee is considering.

As has been proposed, I will make some short introductory comments on programme A to open the discussion. Once we complete our discussion of this programme, I will then take each of the programmes in sequence. I ask for the committee's forbearance in speaking in a little greater detail on programme A as it covers so many key policy areas for my Department, including Northern Ireland, consular services and assistance, our emigrant support programme, ESP, and diaspora funding, for which the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon has primary responsibility, and the passport service, including the passport reform programme. I wish to quickly update the committee on developments in all these important areas in service of Our People, the aptly chosen title for the programme.

Work under programme A 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, and increasing North-South and British-Irish co-operation, which is certainly needed these days. The amount allocated for current expenditure under this programme in 2019 is €77.7 million compared to €73.4 million in 2017, an increase of 5.8%. This programme is about Our People, namely Irish citizens at home and abroad and it covers a number of key priority areas for the Department. Together with the passport service, the provision of consular services and assistance lies at the heart of the Department's engagement with citizens. As Irish people continue to travel in greater numbers than ever before and to ever more remote and exotic locations, the demand for consular assistance has increased significantly. In 2018, my Department provided assistance to Irish citizens in more than 2,343 serious consular cases. Regrettably, this included assistance in over 292 cases where Irish citizens died abroad. A new consular strategy has been developed to address the growing and often complex demand for information and assistance. The strategy outlines how the Department will prioritise modernising and improving the service provided to Irish citizens in distress abroad. Our crisis planning and preparedness team continually reviews the Department's travel advice and works closely with our embassies abroad and external organisations to prepare for major events. For example, planning is currently underway for the rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.

The Passport Service issued some 860,000 passports in 2018, which was the highest number ever issued in a single year. This represented an increase of more than 10% on the previous year. We expect the number of passport applications to continue increasing throughout 2019. I announced on 16 March that more than 230,000 applications had been received so far in the year, representing an extraordinary increase of 30% on the same period in 2018, which was a record in itself. Target turnaround times for applications depend on the category of application. Online applications, which now represent over 70% of all applications, are being processed in under than two weeks. In fact, over 50% are being processed in less than a week. First-time applications, of necessity, take longer because of required entitlement and identity checks. We have taken on board the lessons learned from recent peak seasons and are implementing enhanced measures to provide quality customer service processes and, in particular, to manage our overall demand and the seasonal application increases. This is being done by the recruitment of additional staff, the re-organisation of production processes and administrative arrangements and the continuous implementation of service improvements through the passport reform programme. We learned a lot of lessons last year from pressures in the passport system which arose partly because of a period of extremely bad weather when the system had to be shut down for a couple of days as well as on foot of the sheer volume of applications. We have anticipated those pressures again this year and responded pretty well so far.

My Department works closely with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to seek to ensure the passport service is adequately resourced with sufficient permanent staff throughout the year. More than 80 new permanent staff have been assigned across all the offices since the end of 2018. In addition and in response to the general increase in applications during the busy peak season, sanction has been received to recruit 230 temporary clerical officers, TCOs, to assist in passport processing. In excess of 160 TCOs have already been assigned, with the remainder due to be in place in the coming weeks. A further response by the passport service has been the establishment of a new, dedicated customer service hub. The hub is resourced to deliver an effective service to members of the public who contact the office with queries by telephone or webchat. More than 70 staff are in place with a further 30 staff due to commence by early May. We have had a significant recruitment process under way for a number of months.

As part of the passport reform programme, the second phase of the online passport renewal service was rolled out in November 2018. This facility is now extended to the renewal of children's passports and has introduced a passport card for children. It has also expanded the cohort of adults eligible to renew online. The online service, which is available 24-7, 365 days a year to applicants renewing their passports anywhere in the world, brings significant benefits with faster turnaround times and greater customer satisfaction. The online service has been instrumental in the management of overall passport operations and in allowing the passport service to allocate staff resources more efficiently to cope with unprecedented demand. Further developments planned in the reform programme for 2019 include an automated mailing project, a business process automation project, additional work on the online renewal service and the ongoing improvement to customer systems.

Further developments planned in the reform programme for 2019 include an automated mailing project, a business process automation project, additional work on the online renewal service and the ongoing improvement to customer systems.

The 2019 allocation includes a capital allocation of €5.5 million in respect of the passport reform programme.

Regarding emigrant support and diaspora issues, through the ESP budget of €12.575 million - an increase of €1 million from last year - the Government provides funding to non-profit organisations and projects to support our most vulnerable emigrants abroad, strengthen global Irish communities, and 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 am aware of increased concerns among some members of our Irish communities abroad given uncertainty arising from the British vote to exit the European Union and challenges facing the undocumented Irish in the United States. The ESP is an important tool for the Government as we continue to work with Irish community groups and immigration centres to address current needs and concerns, and to ensure appropriate support is offered to Irish citizens everywhere.

A separate diaspora affairs budget line of €600,000 is managed by the Irish abroad unit. This diaspora affairs expenditure will be targeted at strategic projects relating to the diaspora that support the work of the interdepartmental committee on the Irish abroad and existing Government strategies, in particular Ireland Connected; the International Education Strategy for Ireland; Creative Ireland; and the national tourism strategy.

I commend the work of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, in this important area in his role as Minister for the diaspora. He will take any questions members have on that area.

This programme also deals with matters relating to Northern Ireland. 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. From the outset, protecting the peace process, and the Good Friday Agreement, has been a key priority. Throughout the negotiations on Brexit, as members know well, there has been a strong understanding from our EU partners of the need to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland.

In 2018, the reconciliation fund made grants to cover 100 projects, supporting organisations across the community and voluntary sector, mostly based in Northern Ireland. These groups are building meaningful links across communities, addressing the issues that are impacting on their lives, including sectarianism, and working to create better understanding between people and traditions on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

Clearly, there is still vital reconciliation work to be done and that work may yet take generations. I believe civil society has a very important role to play in this, including by shaping a more reconciled and cohesive society. The reconciliation fund is an important expression of our support for this work. In recognition of that, I announced in May last year that the fund's budget would increase by €1 million to more than €3.7 million for 2019. In percentage terms it is a significant increase even though it is only €1 million in the context of the overall budget.

I welcome any comments or questions from committee members on programme A. I suspect this particular Estimates session is probably less about the money and more about the policy, which is often the case in the Department, with the exception of the development aid side where there is a major increase in expenditure from last year compared to this year. It is hoped that will increase significantly as the years pass between now and 2030 when we want to try to reach the target of 0.7% of GNI.

I will take questions from members. I call Deputy O'Sullivan.

The witnesses are welcome. Based on the size of the delegation I am not too sure what kind of criticism or questions they are expecting.

We do not take any chances in my Department.

I want to acknowledge A Better World and the extent of the work that went into producing it. The very positive response it received from everybody who attended the launch in UCD, including NGOs, civil society and so on was obvious. That was a positive start.

All increases are welcome. I notice that in almost every category administration pay and non-pay are the allocations that have increased.

The figure of 860,000 new passports is mind-boggling. Where are all those applications coming from? I presume Brexit accounts for a large number of them.

They are not all new applicants. Many of those are renewals.

That is okay. The figure gives a different impression.

On requests for embassy admissions and the way in which the Tánaiste has decided on the particular number, I am aware there are some who are disappointed by that. Will he consider more as time goes on?

On the reconciliation work that is still to be done and the work that may take generations, the Government is putting money into reconciliation yet it has not addressed the legacy issues. There is a contradiction in that. Those are my points. I will have questions on the other areas.

On legacy, I was in the Seanad yesterday and we had a good debate on legacy and reconciliation. I thought the debate had some depth. Members of different political parties gave different perspectives. I thought we need to have more of the approach taken to that debate on the issue of legacy and reconciliation to ensure that victims and their families from all sides and all communities can get the truth they seek and, if it is possible, the justice for that.

We are active on both the reconciliation and legacy agenda working with the British Government but also passing our own legislation. For example, the families of the Kingsmill victims will have concerns about accusations of collusion on this side of the Border and they want questions asked and answered. We are in the process of passing legislation being brought forward by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to allow for inquests that are taking place in Northern Ireland to have hearings in a court in Dublin where a member of An Garda Síochána could give evidence or answer questions, if that was appropriate to do, in the context of some of the legacy inquests currently happening or may happen in the future. That involves both Governments passing new legislation. We will insist on the full suite of measures and commitments that were committed to in the Stormont House Agreement and we need legislation passed in Westminster to make that happen. We will continue to advocate for that.

There are other cases as well, including the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, on which the Government continues to have a clear perspective and this is consistent with motions passed in the Dáil and the Seanad. We will continue to advocate accordingly. Some of the recent decisions relating to Bloody Sunday and so on heighten the focus on legacy. I also refer to the Ballymurphy killing. We are very much in tune with that and are part of that debate. I hope we can achieve the kind of language but also the structures we need to be able to move many of these processes forward.

On new missions, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has never expanded at the pace we are expanding at right now. As I said earlier, new embassies are opening in Bogota, Colombia and Santiago, Chile. I am glad a new embassy has opened in Wellington, considering what happened in recent weeks in New Zealand, about which Ireland wants to show as much solidarity as it can. There is a new mission in Vancouver for the obvious reasons. It is physically so far away from the embassy in eastern Canada and that there is a strong Irish community in Vancouver. We are opening a new embassy in Amman, Jordan, because Ireland is taking an increasing political interest in the Middle East peace process and also funnelling a lot of aid money into many of the humanitarian operations across the Middle East in respect of Syrian refugees and so on.

I have outlined the position on Vancouver, Wellington, Santiago, Bogota, Mumbai, Amman, Cardiff, Frankfurt and Los Angeles in terms of what has happened in the past six months and what will happen in the coming six months.

We are also going beyond that. We have committed to opening a new embassy in Morocco and in Kiev in Ukraine. We are also opening an embassy in Liberia and will probably increase our presence further in west Africa. We can only do this at a pace that allows us to do it efficiently and cost effectively. Increased staff numbers are needed as well. I think we are doing this as quickly as we can and targeting the right places. I refer to both political and economic interests.

The EU already has trade agreements in place with most of the countries where we are investing. For example, we will be investing very heavily in capital infrastructure in Tokyo. We are building a new Ireland House there. That will be the biggest capital expenditure ever in a facility like this. It is not a coincidence that the EU has just signed a trade deal with Japan. Likewise, we have increased our emphasis on Canada because the EU has a trade agreement in place, as it has also with both Chile and Colombia. This is Ireland growing and expanding globally. We will continue to do that, but the process needs to be planned and structured. There needs to be a proper strategy and thought process behind it.

Finally, regarding A Better World, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and I agree on this. One of the things both of us really wanted to do while in this Department was to modernise our approach to development. It is already good but we can take it to a new level. We deliberately made that policy document a relatively short read, but there is much significant content. There is also a major financial commitment behind it. I hope future Governments will honour that because it is going to put great pressure on whatever parties are in government over the next ten years to find an increase of more than €100 million each year for our development strategy. It is a big ask. I hope we will be able maintain an economy that can fund it. That is, however, where we are going. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will speak more about that later.

I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

I welcome the briefing on these sections in particular and the points the Minister has raised. On passports, the growth in numbers is phenomenal. It is not, however, unexpected in some ways. I do not know where the increased income from these passports is reflected in the figures. Are they cost neutral? I understand that the Minister does not-----

We do not get to hold on to the money unfortunately. It goes straight into the Exchequer, I am afraid.

It is not reflected in the figures. There is, obviously, a cost if 860,000 passports are being printed. There is a cost for administration and the machines. I saw that the cost for the increased number of personnel required was reflected. I refer to 230 temporary staff as well as new staff. The other figure might be there but I did not notice it.

About €60 million came in last year from the increased fees charged etc.

Is that over the cost of-----

That was a significant increase on the previous year.

I meant was it over the cost of producing the passports. Sometimes-----

The Minister, therefore, has a case to look for an extra €60 million from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, because his Department has been contributing.

I will come back to the Deputy in a second on that.

The Minister will have heard a request from my party and others to open a passport office in Belfast because of the number of passport applications from the Six Counties. A great deal is done online now but there is still a demand for a passport office, in the consular service or elsewhere. I know some of the difficulties people face in emergencies etc. If the Department is making €60 million, that would lend weight to an argument for approaching the Minister for Finance and stating some of that money could be ring-fenced to staff an office in Belfast, Derry or somewhere in the Six Counties to accommodate the need there.

Turning to the increase in the numbers using emergency consular assistance, it is great to see so many more people being helped. The Minister mentioned that 292 people died abroad and help being provided by the consular services. The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, KBRT, does tremendous work in that area. I do not know if the Department funds or helps it in any way, given the work it and others do in repatriating those who have passed away abroad. Those stuck abroad are also sometimes in need of medical transfer back home. It is good to see a new consular strategy since so many more people are travelling and working abroad. There might, however, need to be additional funding to provide help. I refer to cases of distress or where there is no insurance, or not enough insurance, to help families cope in distressing circumstances.

Regarding North-South co-operation, I again have no problem in welcoming the additional €1 million allocated to the reconciliation fund. Much more could be spent in that area. Overall, it is about €6.5 million, not including money for the diaspora and other similar uses. I am referring to programme A, taking headings A6 and A7 together. We need to ensure the appropriate funds are available given the demands we are facing in the future. That includes demands for truth and reconciliation from both communities, as the Minister rightly recognised.

The Minister yesterday, or perhaps before that, also met the family of Mr. Patsy Kelly, an independent councillor murdered in Tyrone by the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR. Families like that are seeking proper investigations. They are not always looking for financial support in trying to get to the truth. Sometimes, however, they do come up against logjams and then they need the support of the Minister and his Department. On occasion, that can involve legal costs because not every family has the wherewithal to get solicitors and other legal professionals on board. The Pat Finucane Centre has done tremendous work in this area in the past. It has helped represent some families who have achieved progress in seeking truth. There is, however, great frustration for families in other cases. I think that is nearly everything.

I call the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

We have looked at the idea of a passport office in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of applications received by the passport service from applicants residing on the island of Ireland, however, are submitted through Passport Express and Northern Ireland Passport Express. Northern Ireland Passport Express allows applicants living in Northern Ireland to apply for their passport through more than 70 post offices. We are now seeing a big shift online as well. Some 70% of renewals, and rising, are now happening online. A person only needs to go into a passport office if he or she is travelling for emergency reasons and his or her passport is not in date etc. That is a relatively small number of people.

People come to the passport offices in Dublin or Cork for that. It can be a long journey whether people are living in the west or north west of Ireland. That does not mean that we should be opening passport offices all over the country or the island. I will, however, keep this under review. At the moment, however, all of the trends point toward a shift online or to having a fairly efficient express postal system. That will allow us to focus resources on turnaround times and keeping people informed about their applications.

On the repatriation of a person's remains when he or she has died abroad, this is something with which I am currently not so happy. While there is a fund available and we provide some financial resources to the fund, there is a question as to whether the State should do more to help families to bring a loved one home after he or she has passed away. We have had discussions within the Department on the issue and will continue to examine it. There is a constant discussion we need to have about encouraging people to take out insurance when they go abroad and cover themselves for the cost of an accident or fatality. If we make policy decisions to the effect that the State will pick up the tab, people will not take out travel insurance in some cases. There is a competing issue, therefore, because there are some tragic cases in which the State should intervene directly where families cannot afford to bring the deceased home. The approach thus far has been to support a charity that helps to fund the cost for families, which has been the recommendation to me for the reasons I have outlined. In respect of the significant numbers I outlined earlier, some of the cases will be different and will put families under a great deal of financial pressure.

There are also Irish citizens who live abroad but whose families might live in Ireland. They would not necessarily have insurance.

I take that point and would not like to be in any way dismissive of that. We need to keep that issue under constant review. On the reconciliation fund, we have increased it by €1 million, which is an increase of almost 25%. I would like to see us continuing to increase it. I hate to say it but politics in Northern Ireland and the relationship between communities is quite fragile. We may well have to invest much more time and financial resources to try to work with UK authorities to ensure that regardless of what decisions are made in respect of Brexit, we will maintain a calm and supportive position, in particular through community leaders who reach out in a responsible way through many of the programmes we fund. While I accept that the sum of €1 million may seem to be small, in the context of increasing the fund from €2.7 million to €3.7 million, it is a considerable increase in percentage terms.

I have no problem with that and, like the Tánaiste, I believe the increase will result in more benefit than cost.

That is all there is to programme A. I do not think there is anything controversial in it. It contains modest increases in important areas.

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister of State. On Brexit preparedness, additional staff have been hired but is the Tánaiste satisfied that the level is adequate to cater for what is coming down the line? While we do not yet know what the final outcome will be, is he satisfied that there are adequate staffing levels in the Department's headquarters and the Irish embassies in the areas we are discussing? I welcome that under Global Ireland 2025, the Department will open additional embassies and consuls in various places and there are a number of other areas we could and will consider in the near future. I wish to put on record my appreciation of the wonderful work that is being done in consular assistance. I have been approached in respect of a number of cases in recent years, particularly in recent months, where there were serious accidents involving persons without insurance as well as one fatal accident. The work that was carried out by the Department's consular staff is to be commended and I am sure that I speak for many of the families when I say the Department and the other group which the Tánaiste mentioned have done exceptional work. It is important because families tell me that at a time such as that, when they are far away and might not understand all the information they receive, people are on the ground to help and assist them in the event of a sad occasion.

On passports, each of us as a public representative is inundated daily in respect of additional passports. The passport service did phenomenal work in issuing 860,000 passports in 2018, which is the highest ever, but the number continues to rise. It is only right and proper that we would acknowledge the work of people in this service. I was often asked about a location in the north west but the online facilities for passports will remove many of the problems for people. It is a successful and important development.

On the Minister of State's comments about diaspora issues, we are making significant progress in various parts of the world where we previously did not. I acknowledge his presence and commitment to the work he is doing in that regard.

We have spoken about Brexit and the future of Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, of which I am a member, has met a number of groups who have benefited from the reconciliation fund. The fund has been well supported and it is only right and proper that we continue in that regard because various groups have benefited from it.

On the staffing aspect of Brexit, the largest impact for us will be on the passport service. We have a communications unit dedicated to Brexit and, in sheer numbers, there has been a significant increase in the numbers we have taken on to ensure we will have an efficient passport delivery service. The other areas across Departments that have taken on significantly more staff in the context of Brexit are those such as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Revenue Commissioners, and agencies linked to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. As would be expected, more people have been taken on by Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Bord Bia as well as in local enterprise offices and so on in some cases. Sufficient resources are in place across Government but we will have to keep that under review.

If there is a no-deal Brexit, it will put a much greater strain on the system. If we have to manage the competing challenge of trying to protect the integrity of the Single Market while at the same time preventing physical border infrastructure on the Border, it will involve more resources and a plan to be worked out with the European Commission, which we would have to do unilaterally with the Commission. We hope that such a plan will not be needed, but in case it is, we are planning for it. If there is a no-deal Brexit, the expenditure on multiple areas, especially such as support programmes in vulnerable economic sectors including that of agriculture, will be significant, which the Minister for Public Expenditure, Deputy Donohoe, will take into account.

From our Department's perspective, we play a co-ordinating role, as opposed to taking on hundreds of people to work in Dublin Port, Rosslare, Dublin Airport or somewhere else.

In terms of co-ordination and communication, we have more staff and bigger teams in some embassies, London, Paris and Berlin being the obvious examples. I am satisfied that we have put in place sufficient staff resources, but in a no-deal scenario everything will change and we have to gear up for it. As of today, I am happy that we are in a reasonably good place.

The point that most passports are issued online is taken, but outside Cork and Dublin there is a lot of the country without any passport office cover in an emergency. A person living at the far end of County Donegal, never mind someone living in Derry or elsewhere in the Six Counties, has a long way to travel to Dublin, especially if it is an emergency. These are the cases with which I have dealt. In fairness to the Minister's office, it has been very helpful in the past in dealing with emergencies. It is a good facility to be able to contact somebody who can give advice. There will always be a cohort who will not be able to make online applications and in practice there will be strange or emergency cases who will need some access to a person. It might be that it would be rolled out more, rather than just Passport Express. It would help to have someone to check when people are doing it because often the delay is caused when people send in material and have forgotten to do this, that or the other.

Are there plans to reopen the embassy in Iran that was closed due to financial constraints? I welcome the opening of the other consular services. We had the advantage when the group travelled from here to Washington of seeing the great work done there. The consular service and the ambassador explained what would be rolled out and how while it might cost money, it would be cost-effective in terms of the benefits Ireland would get and investment in the country. I encourage more of the same, as the Minister outlined.

The only place we can print passports in an emergency is Dublin. Even if someone goes into the Passport Office in Cork to see someone at the desk, the passport cannot be printed there and then. Many people who need passports quickly fly out of Dublin which is by miles the busiest airport. We are trying to move the process to a place where we can have a lot more interaction online as the technology allows us to do more and more. The geographical location where passports are printed will become less relevant, but I take the point and we will keep the matter under review.

We are reopening the consular service in Cardiff next month. There are no plans to reopen an embassy in Iran, but the issue has been raised on several occasions.

I am conscious of the pressure at Government level here and in London, but are there talks taking place at official level between the Irish and British Administrations and the political parties in Northern Ireland on the need to progress talks to have the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive restored? The last time the Minister was here he did not indicate any optimism about when the necessary progress would be achieved.

For relatively little money, the reconciliation fund has been very successful. Officials in the Department have done and still do a great job in working with communities throughout Northern Ireland and the Border counties. While the programme is beneficial, if we do not deal with the legacy issues, there will still be much hurt and anxiety. It is decades since many of the atrocities were committed. Families who have not heard the truth and seen justice are getting older and fear their lives will end before they get the truth about how they lost a loved one. I know this from dealing with the families of victims in the Monaghan and Dublin bombings, people in Belturbet and others in the Border area. They are becoming increasingly anxious and understandably angry that we are making no progress in dealing with the legacy issues. We cannot emphasise enough the need to get the message across that it is a priority for all of us in public life. At times these families can understandably think the issues have gone off the agenda. It is very important, therefore, that we send the message from the Oireachtas and the Government that we continue to pursue them with the British Government and the Northern Ireland authorities. Far too often people say to me they know who committed a crime and who murdered someone, but, unfortunately, that person has never been brought to justice. I know that the framework is in place in the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start agreement to make progress in that respect. The Minister mentioned the legislation being progressed here, but it is an issue of concern, regardless of political pressures on many fronts. Naturally, we will not achieve progress until the Assembly and Executive are restored. Similarly, the North-South Ministerial Council is important. It is often written out of the political agenda, but it would have been extremely important and beneficial if it had been functioning in the past two years, whether at plenary or sectoral level. Are there plans for talks to resume between the Minister, the Secretary of State, Ms Bradley, and the political parties represented at Stormont?

We did have an exploratory meeting with the leaders of all the political parties a few weeks ago in Belfast. They outlined their positions and all said they wanted to get back into devolved government structures in Northern Ireland. There was, however, a fairly direct conversation about the expectations of different parties about what was required to do this. It is very difficult to create the platform or political environment for compromise where parties will accommodate each other's concerns while the Brexit cloud hangs over Northern Ireland. Political parties are focused very much on decisions being made in London, even though many of them are not represented there. I have regular conversations with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on assessing when is the right time to bring parties together. We cannot force the holding of those meetings and have another failure on our hands as that would be very damaging. The public has grown increasingly cynical about, and disillusioned with, the political system in Northern Ireland and we will all have to work hard to try to re-establish trust that Stormont can work and make the right decisions for people, regardless of from where they come and who they are. Unfortunately, Brexit has had a desperately polarising effect, not just on political parties but also on communities. The focus of discussion on Brexit is back on identity, constitutional issues, tribal debates and at the same time the tension in dealing with many of the legacy cases, reinforced, for example, by the Finucane family who continue to ask for a full public inquiry, in which we support them, and the decision on a prosecution in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday.

The position is similar with the inquest into Ballymurphy and the ongoing inquest into Kingsmill. This has created difficult political debates without an Assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland to give political leadership to help communities get through a difficult process when it comes to reconciliation. That is why I said earlier that Northern Ireland is in a rather fragile and difficult place and we need to be careful with the language we use and the decisions we make. However, if we can find a way of creating some certainty around the Brexit process - I hope this can happen in the coming days and weeks - then I believe there will be a window. This is because I believe all parties in Northern Ireland recognise the need for more localised leadership coming from Stormont. Certainly, we will work hard with the British Government to try to make that happen.

We will move on to programme B.

I do not imagine we will need anything like as long a debate on programme B, apart from the pay and non-pay elements. The increases in the non-pay elements relate to Brexit information, campaigning and communications primarily. The pay elements relate largely to pay restoration decisions. The other areas relate to actions around EU engagement and other actions linked to our membership of the European Union. There are no real budget increases of note in those areas. If people want me to go into the matter in detail I can do so, but I do not think there is any controversy here. It is a relatively small amount of money and reflects playing our part as a member of the European Union.

I have one comment. I attended two of the Common Foreign and Security Policy meetings, including the most recent one in Bucharest. I have real concerns over the increasing talk about European armies, etc. There are few voices at that level talking about other ways of dealing with issues besides a European army.

I wish to put the position on the record. Every time there is that kind of discussion, an Irish voice normally intervenes to remind people of what our Constitution says and our policy on military neutrality. Of course we are absolutely committed to the European Union and its future but there are different perspectives. The complexity of Common Foreign and Security Policy aims to try to accommodate those perspectives in different ways. Ireland, through our triple lock system, will decide if and when Irish troops travel to different parts of the world. That will not be decided by someone else. That is something we remind people of on a regular basis.

We will move on to programme C.

Under programme C pay and non-pay are pretty straightforward. The other figures relate to contributions to international organisations. A 2019 allocation of €34 million is essentially at the same level as the revised figure for 2018. It reflects the best estimate of mandatory contributions to international organisations in 2019. The Department is committed, on behalf of the State, to paying assessed contributions to international organisations. This includes peace, security and human rights contributions to the UN, which is the largest single contribution. This is in accordance with a rolling three-year schedule negotiated by the UN. The contributions are based on a percentage of Ireland's GNP. Again, this is a non-controversial area linked to commitments we have made. It is rolled over a three-year cycle.

As with the last allocation the funds seem to be staying the same. One of the international organisations to which we contribute is the UN. We seem to be paying in less, although in miniscule amounts. This seems to fly in the face of our commitments in terms of the UN and environmental degradation around the world. Will we expect to have to make larger increases to these international organisations in future? I have in mind the UN in particular, because the world seems to be becoming more volatile again and the UN may be needed to address peace and stability in some areas as well as the environment.

A separate question arises on human rights and the protection of human rights internationally. Again, the committee has done much work in this area. Is this an area where we should be increasing our contributions? Is it simply demand-led? Do we grant whatever the UN asks of us rather than looking to increase contributions specifically? Businesses and corporations that do not respect human rights need to be held to account for abuses of human rights, violations and environmental degradation. Should we be supporting international organisations that seek to tackle those problems?

This figure is not our total contribution to the UN. This is a contribution to UN organisations that is subject to calculations made at a UN level under commitments made as part of a three-year cyclical process. We make a series of other contributions to UN agencies separately, including the World Food Programme, UNHCR and environmental NGOs. I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will discuss these when it comes to his Vote. We are increasingly investing through UN organisations in what is entirely untied aid. That is as it should be. We are looking to sit on the decision-making body, the UN Security Council, in some years' time. Ireland's foreign policy is very much shaped by EU membership and UN membership. Most of the expenditure in programme C relates to Ireland's mandatory contributions to international organisations of which we are members, including the UN. The 2019 Estimate reflects the best estimate at the time of mandatory contributions due this year. It should be noted, however, that the challenge of forecasting the UN peacekeeping budget in particular, 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 the existing peacekeeping contribution 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. The complexity of the UN budget process and the negotiations of contribution rates for all UN participants make this budget difficult to quantify at any stage of the year. This estimate may go slightly up or down depending on several factors, including whether new peace-keeping missions are required or whether exchange rates change. Anyway, this is our best guess at this point.

Did the Tánaiste say this was under a three-year cycle?

Is 2019 the middle year or the end year of the cycle?

It is the end year.

We could see an increase next year. Is that correct?

Programme D is next.

Under programme D pay and non-pay figures are self-explanatory. Again, there are no increases in the other areas but under the heading of promoting Ireland the published allocation is at the same level as at 2018. Funding under this programme enables the Department and its mission network to raise Ireland's profile internationally and support local and regional trade and economic initiatives as well as organising cultural activities.

Subhead D4 relates to contributions to national and international organisations. This allocation is set at the same level as last year.

It covers Ireland's contribution to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, and some smaller contributions, including to the Asia-Europe foundation.

The business and human rights policy was a long time coming. We finally have a chair of the committee but we need to put the policy into action as regards Irish business and not let the policy sit on the shelf. We are told this is being done in the context of trade but we do not want to hear of Irish companies that are involved in dubious practices relating to workers' rights and decent pay.

A very good person is chairing the committee. I do not know if the Deputy was at the last meeting we had on the subject.

The group is coming before us.

This has to be part of Ireland's sales pitch abroad and part of how we promote what we do across our mission network. As we see a significant increase in the number of our missions, I suspect the budget line will have to be increased in years ahead. For this year it is more or less the same budget as for last, with a difference of only some €1,000.

Subhead D3 deals with promoting Ireland. Given the year we have had with Brexit, not to mention the years to come dealing with the same issue, I would encourage greater funding for such programmes. I have found that investment in promoting Ireland abroad pays huge dividends, even if it does not come back directly to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Our international standing is helped by investment so it is a pity that it is only increasing by €1,000. There may be other programmes related to this one but it is logical to increase it.

This budget allows our staff to co-ordinate the expenditure from other Departments. Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, for example, have quite a lot of funding here and I would not like to suggest that we are not spending more money promoting Ireland through our embassy networks. We are doing that and we have just had comfortably the largest ever St. Patrick's Day programme, with 56 countries visited in total. Each Minister's Department pays for its travel programme. This subhead funds our team to co-ordinate things and there is a lot more joined-up thinking in the area of promoting Ireland. There are new Ireland Houses not just in Tokyo but in many other parts of the world.

I was part of a parliamentary delegation visiting Washington recently. We took the embassy staff away from other work they could have been doing and we appreciate the huge level of work the staff in embassies and consulates do. We manage to reach a lot further than our size would warrant and we should not be shy of providing the additional money to help staff do their job. There is a need for additional staff if we are opening embassies and consular services and we benefit hugely from the programme.

Will we move to programme E?

Programme E 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.

Pay has increased for the reasons I outlined earlier and the other two budgets are more or less as they were. Capital expenditure is linked to this for new missions. This programme also includes a capital allocation of €9 million under subhead E2, which is non-pay expenditure. A big chunk is for Tokyo but, as I outlined, other new missions are opening and they have to be leased or purchased. Most are leased for the short term, until we can be satisfied we can get good value by buying the right properties in the right places. We need human resources to do this in the shape of property teams to go to places like Santiago, Bogotá and Oman.

Programme F is appropriations-in-aid.

I will turn to income accruing under appropriations-in-aid, which is referred to as Programme F. The total income under appropriations-in-aid in 2019 is estimated at almost €45 million, a marginal decrease on 2018. The primary source of income, which accrues directly to the Exchequer from my Department, comes from passport application fees and accounts for over 90% of all appropriations-in-aid receipts. 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. The figure may be higher but €45 million is the figure agreed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The figure was higher last year and it will probably be higher again this year but it is the figure that has been recommended.

I welcome this opportunity to present the 2019 Estimate for Vote 27 - International Co-operation. Vote 27 funds about two thirds 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 for a more just, secure and sustainable world.

For this year, I am proud to announce that we have allocated almost €817 million to official development assistance, the highest increase in funding in over a decade. This represents an increase of approximately €110 million, or 16% on the 2018 budget announced. Some €544 million will be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through Vote 27 - International Co-operation, an increase of €44 million, or almost 9%, on last year’s allocation.

A further estimated €272 million will be managed through other Departments and Ireland's share of the EU development co-operation budget. By far, the largest component of this element of ODA is our share of the EU development co-operation budget, which has grown significantly over the past few years. Significant ODA contributions also flow through the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Finance and Justice and Equality. The 2019 allocation is a significant budgetary commitment by the Government to international development and is an important statement of who we are as a people and a clear reflection of Ireland's values and interests. We all have a stake in making a better world and expanding our development co-operation programme is an investment in a better, safer and, ultimately, more sustainable world. It provides Ireland with an opportunity to expand its influence and strengthen its partnerships today and for tomorrow.

Last year, when we published Global Ireland, the Government committed to delivering on the United Nations target of allocating 0.7% of gross national income, GNI, to official development assistance by 2030. Global Ireland also committed the Government to publishing a new White Paper on international development. Last month, we delivered on that commitment. Along with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, I launched the Government's new policy for international development - A Better World. This new policy document provides the framework for the expansion of our ODA and for reaching the 0.7% target by 2030. Sustained, managed increments in ODA will be required to deliver on this commitment. Careful planning and consultation with other Departments and stakeholders will also be needed to ensure it is done effectively. We are adopting a steady and phased approach, taking into consideration the range of demands across Government and recognising that to deliver on this ambition will mean making difficult choices between competing priorities. We are, however, making progress, increasing allocations to ODA by some 32% since 2014 and 16% in this year alone.

I thank this committee in particular for its work in 2017 in reviewing Ireland's aid programme. The recommendations from that work informed our thinking in developing our new international development policy. In particular, the committee's recommendations on putting the sustainable development goals, SDGs to the fore, on prioritising gender equality, education and agriculture were of particular benefit along with those related to strengthening our capacity to deliver an effective international development co-operation programme and to maintain Ireland's reputation for quality, untied aid and delivering results for those most in need. Our new policy, A Better World, sets out our vision for Ireland's contribution to international development looking forward to 2030. It is a clear statement of Ireland's commitment to global citizenship, to helping make our planet a better place to live for others and for ourselves. It focuses on reaching the furthest behind first, wherever they might be, in a least developed country, a small island state vulnerable to climate change, or a victim of conflict or a humanitarian crisis.

A Better World builds on Ireland's strengths as a donor and the strong international reputation we have maintained since the establishment of our official development programme. It is a bold statement of what Ireland will do to contribute to a more peaceful, equal and sustainable world, in response to the underlying message of the SDGs to leave no one behind. It commits Ireland to scaling up resources and capacity across four policy priorities, namely, gender equality, including a strengthened focus on education for girls; reducing humanitarian need; climate action and strengthening governance in developing countries. Our new policy also draws from Ireland's own history and our development journey, committing Ireland to intensifying our work in three clusters of interventions where we have proven expertise, namely, protection, food and people. This policy is a whole-of-government policy and commits us to both intensifying our contribution to development co-operation and to changing how we work. We are committed to working more effectively across all Departments with civil society, research and education institutions and the private sector. Importantly, we will increase our investment in public engagement and outreach, which was a significant part of arriving the policy we have arrived at.

Ireland does development well. We have a well-earned reputation for the quality of our aid programme and for being highly effective at reaching those in extreme poverty, which, again, has been recognised internationally. What we do works and has real impact. Ireland, and we as Irish people, can be proud of our international development co-operation policy and programme. We are reducing inequality, poverty and hunger. We bring our authentic experience to this work, delivering a world-class programme, helping to save lives, to build livelihoods and to bring life-saving humanitarian assistance to those most in need and in times of crisis.

I welcome comments and questions from members.

I thank the Minister of State. We all welcome the substantial increase for funding in the 2019 allocation. I am sure it will be put to good use in some of the most deprived parts of the world. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

I apologise but I must leave by 4.15 p.m. for an appointment. I agree with the Minister of State's conclusion that we have a well-earned reputation. It comes from the fact that our aid is untied and poverty focused and from the way in which it is delivered. We know this through our contact with our ambassadors, embassies and NGOs and missionaries. It is important that we hold on to that reputation. The threats to it come from policy incoherence in the tax area, climate change and workers' rights areas, which I have spoken about previously. However, the positive has to be acknowledged today.

I know that with our partner countries the focus is on Africa but given the increase in funding, can we look further? I ask that question wearing my hat as Chair of the Ireland-Nepal Parliamentary Friendship Group. As chair of that group I have met a number of the Nepalese community here, as well as Irish groups and organisations involved in projects in education and health particularly. Nepal ticks a lot of the boxes in terms of an area that we could consider working with. I am not suggesting that we should take on another partner but I ask that consideration to given to working with Nepal because of the extent of the work that is going on there now.

I also have concerns about the EU trust fund. Only today we learned of another issue in regard to Libya. In the Mediterranean, migrants rescued have taken over the rescued tanker. It tried to land in Italy and it was pushed back. We know that the migrants do not want to go back to Libya because of what is happening in the centres there.

In regard to the reputation we have developed and are anxious to protect, I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy's comments, particularly in regard to aid remaining untied and focused on reaching those furthest behind. The Deputy is also correct that there is a question of policy incoherence particularly in the area of climate change. Hopefully, the work undertaken by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Oireachtas committee on climate change will produce positive results. We need consensus, in terms of political consensus nationally, on how we are going to address this particular challenge, particularly in the relationships we are now trying to develop with small island developing states around the world, and amplify our collective voice in advocating for the kind of policy development that needs to happen internationally. We cannot stand on that stage without being able to show that we have a far-seeing and progressive approach to that policy in Ireland.

In regard to Nepal, we are already working with through a memorandum of understanding, MOU, with the Health Service Executive, HSE, around standards in healthcare. I am sure Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is aware of that MOU. There is no reason why we cannot explore additional opportunities in the future.

I thank the Minister of State.

I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

In some ways, this is the good news part of a budget in terms of what we do, even when we cannot afford to do so, to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. It is for this reason we have the reputation around of the world of being a charitable people. The Minister of State will not hear any criticism from me on the issue of untied aid. I am around long enough to remember the commitments that were made around reaching the development goals of 0.7%. We are still far behind where we should be in that regard. There is no point reiterating the criticisms in regard to our not reaching that goal. It is laudable that once again we have set out a target. Hopefully, we will reach it. It is a big commitment for Ireland.

Based on the figures presented by the Minister of State, this would entail moving from the more than €800 million we give at present to nearly €2 billion. My view has always been that it should be more than that but that is the minimum.

The argument I have relates to some of the tied aid, specifically to the European Development Fund and to where some of the European Union's development and co-operation budget goes. The amount this year from us has been increased by 12%. Where it is spent well and in line with our own commitments and funding, it is laudable, but there are questions in this regard. I know my colleague, Deputy Crowe, has raised concerns about the accountability and transparency of the European Development Fund in particular, and there is a particular concern about the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. It is the main financial instrument for the EU's political engagement with African partners and of late it has become very focused on migration rather than development, although the two are tied. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan mentioned the position in Libya, with people fleeing horrendous wars or humanitarian disasters in Africa ending up drowning in the Mediterranean. If they do not drown, they are sent back to Libya. Some of the money that should be spent on development in the countries that these people are fleeing is being spent on a humanitarian crisis in some ways in Libya, as well as in propping up a crazy regime that is guilty of mass human rights abuses.

Deputy Crowe also asked me to speak to subhead A5, relating to voluntary contributions to the UN and other development assistance. There was a presentation in the audiovisual room yesterday by Financial Justice Ireland, which had a speaker from Jubilee Caribbean, pointing out that the vast majority of countries that have been devastated by disasters caused by climate change are heavily indebted. These countries are not the cause of climate change but are suffering the consequences at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. These countries, which are already heavily indebted, must go further into debt because they are forced to borrow more. The question is how we can help countries that are so indebted. Will we help with additional aid or could we call for a moratorium on debt or debt forgiveness for the countries affected by climate change?

I thank the Deputy for supporting the work we are doing in the Department and outlining that, ultimately, we are a charitable people. We have that collective national memory of an extraordinarily difficult time in our history and that resonates with us to this day; it will probably do so for many generations to come. Whenever we have the discussion in this room of that 0.7% target, there is absolute political consensus that it is what we need to do. In a recent discussion in Seattle, I presented Ireland's new Irish Aid policy to a number of academics involved with international development worldwide, and they were immensely surprised to hear that we have absolute political consensus, with nobody arguing about heading in the opposite direction with our financial commitment.

With regard to the funds we channel through the European Union, I have always believed that if we are to have the maximum possible impact in trying to reach those furthest behind and effecting global change, we need to partner with countries sharing values and an ethos. All our European Union partner countries very much share Ireland's ambition to reduce poverty and injustice while addressing humanitarian needs across the world. We can have a far bigger impact with the resources we spend if we channel a significant amount through the European Union. We also have recently put in place additional resources within the Department. There are two different units in the Department overseeing the funds dispersed through the United Nations and the European Union to ensure there is proper scrutiny in place. As our commitment increases, we must ensure we have the resources to ensure moneys are spent as well as possible.

The Deputy spoke about the nations affected by climate change. I met the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, a small island state in the Pacific, in New York last September. He told me that if the current level of sea level rises continues, his country will cease to exist in 30 years. There is a very real impact being felt right now, specifically in developing Pacific small island states. We are very anxious to work with those states to mitigate the work effects of climate change. We are involved right now in the development of a specific fund to which Ireland will contribute to allow such countries to mitigate the very worst effects of climate change on their people and economies as they become increasingly subject to such challenges. It is something of which we are very aware and we are working on that issue. We will make a financial contribution to that in a very short period.

I have a question on the A Better World policy for international development. I see where priority has been given to committing Ireland to scaling up resources to fight gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance in developing countries. What type of funding are we talking about or what resources are being spoken about in helping under those various headings?

With respect to governance, we always describe the countries we work with in terms of our overseas development aid as partner countries. That is how we perceive them and we want to partner with them in embarking on a journey that is very similar to the one experienced by Ireland over the past 50 years. While we are anxious to continue to commit funds to healthcare, education and gender equality matters in all these locations, it is incredibly important that they have strong governance structures in place in order that ultimately, having made these commitments with funds, they would have the maximum possible impact. We work with governments in developing their health and education systems, as well as their expertise to be able to use these funds with the maximum possible impact.

For example, we work with a number of African governments in developing a social welfare system that we would perceive to be absolutely normal in this country. We have vast experience that we can share with those countries. Governments are now using what are called social cash transfer models, transferring cash directly to women at the heads of households across Africa, which has a very significant impact in lifting those families out of poverty. We are also focusing on girls in education. Ultimately, the long-term solution for gender inequality internationally would have girls in education as a key element. We are investing very heavily in putting girls in education. In many countries young girls drop out of education in their early teens, never to return, and consequently we have some really powerful programmes to support such girls to remain in education.

These are the primary areas in which we invest. Governance is a major element. We can continue to disperse funds but if the partner countries does not have the required expertise at government and civil society level to use those funds effectively and create a legacy impact long after the funds are gone, we would be on a hiding to nothing. That is ultimately why we work on strengthening those areas.

I welcome the substantial increase in funding and we realise it will be put to very good use through direct programmes and the assistance to the various non-governmental organisations, as well as other international organisations. On behalf of the committee I take this opportunity to thank the many Irish people and their international colleagues who work in some of the most difficult areas in the world.

We have given some of the practitioners who have been working in those crisis-hit areas, including nurses, doctors and other workers, the opportunity to make presentations to this committee. It is important that we record our appreciation for their work in very difficult circumstances and dangerous places. I attended a seminar on the need for climate action in Athlone Institute of Technology last Thursday night. It was organised by my colleagues, Deputies Eugene Murphy, Troy and Cowen. At that meeting, which was very well attended by people from all age groups, I made the point that Irish people have shown have great empathy with the poorest in the world over the centuries as a result of our history of famine, poverty and hunger. In the debate about climate change, the need for climate action, and the need to protect the environment, if we were able to make the point more clearly that the biggest victims of climate change are the poorest in the world, it might help us to create a greater awareness among us all that we need to do more and that doing more would benefit the poorest and the regions that are hardest hit. If work was done to bring about greater awareness of that point, that message could resonate with the public.

At that meeting in Athlone Institute of Technology last week I made the point that only days previously we had seen huge devastation in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, particularly in the Beira region of Mozambique. There was huge loss of life and areas were literally wiped out. When we visited Mozambique and Malawi, the issue of rising water levels and the people's insecure future was brought home to us forcefully. We need to see determination to get the message across that these people will continue to be the biggest victims in the world and will continue to be kept in poverty because of climate change.

I appreciate the Minister of State's kind and generous remarks regarding the report the committee drew up. We focused on a number of specific areas, including the area of gender equality and the need to ensure that women and girls are kept in education. During our trip to Malawi, we met agronomists who were teaching the skills to grow potatoes, manage crops and so on. One of the officers told us that it was their ambition to get women to come to the classes in the school because they will listen and pass on the knowledge. That emphasised to me the importance of ensuring that girls and women get that educational opportunity.

Professor Gerry Boyle, the director of Teagasc, was before the committee. Teagasc is playing a role in the area of knowledge transfer. Is further progress being made in ensuring that the private sector is more generous in participating in programmes in developing countries? Perhaps such companies could ensure that some of their relatively young retired staff would put their skills, experience and knowledge to good use in those countries for short periods. Many of those big international Irish corporations have the capacity to spend money in those countries. As we all know, what they see as relatively little money would do a lot in developing countries. The area of knowledge transfer and interchangeability could deliver a great deal of benefit at very little cost to the Exchequer. It would do so much good on the development side.

I could not agree with the Chairman more on the issue of climate change. I would love to hear more about that meeting in Athlone because Athlone itself has experienced the worst excesses of climate change. It was under water for most of early 2016. There is an emerging public consensus that we need to do something urgently. That public consensus needs to be reflected in the words of the people who sit in this building, the representatives who represent that public. As I said to Deputy Ó Snodaigh earlier, we need to show consistency in the policies we espouse worldwide and those we implement on the ground in Ireland. In arriving at our new international development policy, we found that the public engagement meetings we held throughout the country were very helpful and informative. I mentioned that there is absolute consensus in this room on the 0.7% contribution. We found that the exact same was true in every conversation we had in Dublin, Cork, Sligo, Limerick, and Galway. We need to engage in a similar exercise in respect of climate change.

I told a story a few minutes ago of an island in the Pacific that will not be around in 30 years. I saw a map created by the geography department of one of our third level institutions - I cannot remember which one - that mapped out Ireland in 2100 if the current level of rise in sea levels continues. I contemplated moving a little bit further inland when I saw it because a significant impact is waiting for us if we do not act on this urgently. Very good work is being done in the committee chaired by my colleague, Deputy Naughton. Equally good work is being done by all colleagues across the Oireachtas. Those of us who share these concerns need to be a little more vocal and a little more courageous in the things we say in the public domain. We need to point out the seriousness and urgency with which we need to treat this issue.

I also agree completely with the Chairman in respect of Ireland's internationally renowned expertise in agriculture and in respect of how that can be used to assist people in our partner countries. I was very happy to launch a programme of collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and our Department with the Minister, Deputy Creed, last year. This collaboration supports Irish agritech companies in establishing their first presence in Africa. One of the main reasons that most innovative agritech companies are afraid to invest in Africa is simply the risk associated with it. This was discussed in Seattle last week by many people who are involved in agritech internationally. Companies do not know what they are getting into as regards national government policy and are worried about the ground moving beneath their feet. Governments internationally, including our own, are trying to remove some of that risk or to insure those companies against it. We are supporting them and letting them know that we have their back as they make their presence felt in these economies for the first time and as they collaborate with emerging and very impressive African agriscience and agritech companies. The Department also has a memorandum of understanding with Teagasc.

With regard to seeing that science implemented on the ground, NGOs like Self Help Africa are doing extraordinary work in assisting farmers to increase their production, to make it more efficient, and to seek out and secure new markets for their produce. The Chairman mentioned that the private sector has a role to play. We have a consultancy looking at private sector engagement in the development of a more efficient and more scientifically underpinned agricultural economy across the whole of Africa. That work is happening as a result of our new policy, A Better World.

Are we involving the agriscience departments of our institutes of technology and universities in this regard?

Yes, most definitely. We launched a new partnership with the Irish Research Council earlier this week. Irish Aid has been funding a lot of research across our third level institutions over recent decades. We intend to enhance the relationship even further in the future. We had a presentation in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland from a number of different researchers who are doing research work that is part funded by Irish Aid and part funded by the Irish Research Council. Science Foundation Ireland also has a role to play in carrying out research that will have an impact on how we plan for the future of Ireland, but which will also have a significant impact across our partner countries. We want to support research happening here that can also resonate or have an effect worldwide.