Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Questions (9)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

48 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will define the state of his preparation in advance of the Rio summit in 2012 and the millennium development goals review conference in 2013; and if he will clarify his goals for these two key events. [27323/11]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The millennium development goals, MDGs, were adopted by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000. They set out specific targets for reducing global poverty, hunger, disease and inequality, and provide the framework for international development up to 2015. The planned MDG special event in 2013 is part of an ongoing process of review and assessment of their implementation. It will build on the MDG review summit held last year in New York.

The millennium development goals are at the heart of Ireland's aid programme and our development policy. We have been working internationally to ensure international development policy remains focused on their achievement. Last month in New York I met the heads of the main UN agencies and reviewed progress, looking ahead to the UN events in 2013 and 2015. Ireland has played a strong role throughout the MDG process to ensure the focus has remained on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, and especially on the continuing global hunger crisis. This will continue to be our priority in the run-up to the 2015 deadline and beyond.

The United Nations conference on sustainable development will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The key objectives will be to secure a renewed political commitment to sustainable development, assess progress on the implementation of the outcomes of previous summits, and address new and emerging global challenges. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is co-ordinating Ireland's preparations for the conference and Irish Aid is engaging actively on the international development dimension. The Department has begun a stakeholder consultation process and will organise a public seminar in October. It is also preparing a revised national sustainable development strategy which is expected to be published for public consultation later this year.

The Minister of State may be aware that on Thursday morning last a cross-party group of Deputies and Senators joined Dóchas in its campaign to ensure that Ireland meets its commitment in respect of the millennium development goals to reach the target of 0.7% of GDP for official development assistance by 2015. Concerns have arisen in this regard because if one considers the figures, one can see that Ireland's contribution reached a peak of €769 million in 2008. This was almost 0.6% of GDP, which meant we were moving close to our target. In the interim, however, there has been a significant reduction — a couple of hundred million euro — in the level of our contribution to 0.52%. This represents a decline of almost 0.1% and means that we are moving in the wrong direction. What is the Department's strategy to ensure we might begin, in the context of the forthcoming budget, to move in the right direction again and seek to honour our commitment?

As the Deputy is aware, the programme for Government states that Ireland is committed to reaching the target of 0.7% of GDP. All the countries which signed up to the agreement aspire to this goal and we are working very hard to reach it. I acknowledge that there has been a reduction of approximately 30% in the level of our contribution in recent years and that the figure currently stands at 0.52% of GDP. While obviously I cannot inform the Deputy with regard to what is going to be in the budget, he will be aware of what is contained in the programme for Government. As Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development, I am fighting hard to ensure we get back on the right track. There is no doubt we will face a challenge in this regard, especially in light of our current economic circumstances. We are doing everything possible to ensure we get matters back on an even keel and proceed to increase the level of our contribution.

I am sure all Deputies would endorse the efforts of the Minister of State with regard to the battle she will be obliged to fight in the context of the forthcoming budget. I wish to make a suggestion in that regard.

It would be better if the Deputy asked a question.

The matter to which I wish to refer relates to the Irish Aid budget. Compared with its counterparts in many other European states, Irish Aid has been very effective in delivering value for money and doing great work in the countries in which it is involved. Would the Minister of State consider establishing a permanent exhibition of the work of Irish Aid and housing it at the Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown Park House? Doing this would provide a very good tie-in between what happened in this country in the past and what we are doing to ensure the events which occurred here will not be replicated anywhere else in the world?

That is a very interesting suggestion.

I will bring the Minister of State for a cup of coffee at Strokestown Park House at some point.

An event which links our development work with the Famine is due to take place shortly. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Deenihan, is taking the lead in respect of that event, at which I will be delivering an address. There is a strong folk memory of the Famine and that is why there is such support for our programme across the political parties and among members of the public. A recent opinion poll indicated that despite the difficult circumstances, 80% of people are supportive of the amount of money we are spending on the overseas development programme. I presume we would have to engage with the people who run the Irish National Famine Museum in respect of the Deputy's suggestion, which is certainly worth considering.

As Deputy Naughten is aware, information relating to this matter is available at the Irish Aid volunteering and public information centre on O'Connell Street in Dublin. The Deputy is correct in that we must constantly engage with the public on the quality of the work we are doing. On Monday I met the representatives of the OECD carrying out the mid-term review. The compliments on Ireland's programme are very strong and we are seen as a world leader because of the effectiveness of our programme. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at a major event focusing on world hunger which was attended by hundreds of people from all over the world. Although we are seen as a world leader in this respect, the Deputy is correct that we must ensure the public is aware of the issue.