Passport Services

Questions (51)

Clare Daly

Question:

51. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason the passport express facility, which states a guaranteed ten-day return, is not producing passports within that timeframe but actually taking considerably longer, causing huge distress and travel disruption; and the action he will take regarding same. [22326/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Over 93% of all passport applications within the State are made through Passport Express. This is a joint venture with An Post which enables applicants to lodge applications through some 1,000 post offices across the country and some 70 post offices in Northern Ireland.

The Passport Service endeavours to return a passport to all those who submitted properly completed applications through Passport Express within 10 working days. 82% of Passport Express Applications were processed within 10 days during 2013. However passport demand in Ireland is seasonal. Almost 50% of all passport applications are received in the four months April –July. Notwithstanding the best efforts to plan in advance for such seasonal pressures, spikes in demand can still occur. In particular this year two sharp peaks in demand as a result of naturalisation ceremonies occurred in January and March when approximately 8,000 new Irish citizens applied for their passports within a relatively short period of time. Moreover, on 7 May, the Passport Service received nearly 7,000 applications which is the single largest daily recorded intake of passport applications in the history of the state. Inevitably this has resulted in some delays in passport turnaround times. The Passport Service regrets the delay and any difficulties caused in this regard.

In an effort to improve the delivery of Passport Express and other services, the Passport Service has taken additional measures to deal with these short delays and the current increase in demand for the summer holiday season. These include:

(i) the recruitment and training of 160 temporary clerical officers; most taken from the live register.

(ii) technical changes to the passport system to heighten and increase the effectiveness of productivity through the separation renewal applications, which are generally straightforward, from the more complex applications for those applicants who are applying for the first time or who have lost or had their passports stolen; and

(iii) the use of overtime.

So far this year over 85% of applicants have received their passports in 12 working days or less. Currently the average processing times for renewal applications is less than ten working days with others such as first time applications averaging ten to eleven working days.

Maritime Jurisdiction

Questions (52)

John Browne

Question:

52. Deputy John Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with regard to SI 86 of 2014 titled Maritime Jurisdiction (Boundaries of Exclusive Economic Zone) Order 2014 whose purpose is to designate the economic zone of the State, if he will provide a map of the new exclusive economic zone detailing changes from the previous exclusive economic zone of the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22472/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the body of water that stretches from 12 nautical miles offshore out to a distance of 200 miles. Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea a coastal state has exclusive rights within its EEZ over fishing (although all EU member states have transferred their competence for conservation and management of sea fisheries to the EU), the production of energy from water and wind, the protection of the marine environment and the conduct of marine scientific research. A coastal state also enjoys exclusive sovereign rights to the recovery of oil and gas from the seabed beneath the EEZ, although this is governed by the separate legal regime of the continental shelf.

The Maritime Jurisdiction (Boundaries of Exclusive Economic Zone) Order 2014 was made by the Government on 11 February last and, together with the Continental Shelf (Designated Areas) Order 2014 made on the same day, gives effect to the 'Agreement between the Irish and British Governments establishing a single maritime boundary between the Exclusive Economic Zones and continental shelves of Ireland and the UK', signed by the British Ambassador and myself in Dublin on 28 March 2013. A map of the new boundaries is set out in the annex to the Agreement and I have sent a map to the Deputy directly. The 2013 Agreement was necessary because, although Ireland and the UK negotiated an agreement on continental shelf boundaries in 1988, no agreement on the EEZ boundaries above the continental shelf was attempted at that time. The two countries' declared EEZs therefore overlapped at the edges. The new Agreement establishes the agreed 1988 continental shelf boundaries as the boundaries for both the continental shelf and the EEZs above, with some small technical adjustments necessary to take account of the 200 nautical mile EEZ limit.

The Agreement brings legal certainty to boundary issues. This in turn will improve the protection of fisheries. While EU member states have transferred competence to the EU for the conservation and management of sea fisheries they remain responsible for enforcement of EU fisheries law within their own jurisdictions. Under the new Agreement therefore it will now be clear which State is responsible for law enforcement in EEZ areas that previously overlapped. Likewise there will now be clarity about which state is responsible for licensing renewable energy projects within EEZ boundary areas and for protecting the marine environment in those areas.

Following the making of the two Government Orders the Agreement entered into force on 31 March 2014. Immediately afterwards it was laid before Dáil Éireann in accordance with Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann and published in the Irish Treaty Series.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (53)

Finian McGrath

Question:

53. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will support the peace talks in Havana, Cuba concerning the conflict in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22208/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I strongly support the Colombian peace process. I hope that the negotiations under way in Havana, Cuba will bring an end to a long conflict in Colombia which has caused much suffering. I welcome the announcement on 16th May last that the negotiators in Havana have now reached provisional agreement on their agenda item dealing with illicit drugs. This means that three areas of the negotiations are now subject to provisional agreement: land reform, political participation and illicit drugs. As noted in the EU statement concerning the progress announced this month, the drugs trade has weakened political and social structures in Colombia for too long, fuelling insecurity and causing suffering. Dismantling the drugs economy will benefit the entire region and enable Colombia to reap the full advantages of peace and security. We are therefore encouraged by the reports of consensus reached on this important issue.

I wish the parties to the negotiations success in reaching agreement on the other items remaining on their agenda so that a final comprehensive peace agreement can be secured as soon as possible. Ireland will continue to follow closely developments on the Colombian peace process and to support a negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia.

Consular Services Representations

Questions (54, 60)

Clare Daly

Question:

54. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken to secure the release of an Irish citizen (details supplied) who has been imprisoned for eight months in Egypt; if the EU will publicly demand their immediate release prior to the case going before the criminal courts and that the outrageous violation of their human rights be condemned. [22272/14]

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Pat Deering

Question:

60. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is satisfied that he is doing everything possible to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa who remains imprisoned in Egypt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22748/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 60 together.

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have raised my concerns at his continued detention without trial with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, on 11 November and 23 December 2013. The Embassy of Ireland in Cairo has been actively liaising with the Egyptian authorities in relation to the case and contacts have included numerous meetings. Our Ambassador and her colleagues in Egypt have met with senior officials from the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Justice, and the office of the Prosecutor General. Consular officials in Dublin met with family representatives on 17 August, 19 September, 24 October and 16 December 2013, 16 January, 6 March and on 1 and 21 May 2014. Consular visits were made to this individual on 24 August, 8 September, 15 September, 10 October, 24 October, 30 October, 10 November, 21 November, 3 December and 18 December 2013 and 8 January, 26 January, 13 February, 23 March, 9 April and 7 May 2014.

In March 2014, the Minister for Justice wrote to the Egyptian Minister for Justice Abdel-Moneim Othman, raising the Government's concerns at the individual's continued detention and requesting the opportunity to speak about this case as soon as possible. I wrote to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms. Catherine Ashton, on 9 May 2014, asking that she raise her concerns on this individual's case in her contacts with the Egyptian authorities. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis raised this case with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, and the Prosecutor General, Hisham Barakat, during his visit to Cairo in February 2014.

However the individual named is still before the judicial system in Egypt and we are precluded from getting involved in the judicial process. The Irish Embassy and the Consular Assistance Section at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to give all appropriate consular assistance.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (55, 64)

Clare Daly

Question:

55. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent contact he has had with the British and Northern Ireland authorities regarding prisoner conditions and issues. [22273/14]

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Clare Daly

Question:

64. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Justice Minister the issue of prisoners being held in the care and supervision unit in Maghaberry for months with no access to the separated wings, isolated, forcibly and repeatedly strip searched, and subjected to approaches by State agencies in total breach of human rights. [23074/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 64 together.

I have regular comprehensive discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, most recently on 21 May, about the overall situation in the North and the peace process. I discuss a number of issues regularly with her, including the threats posed by so-called dissident republicans, as well as attacks by loyalist paramilitaries and criminals on the PSNI and communities. I have also discussed the deplorable attacks on members of the PSNI and the Prison Service with her, and the ongoing threat to the lives of prison staff. I have in the past raised with the Secretary of State a small number of cases which arise from the exercise by her of certain non devolved powers in relation to national security issues. My officials in the British Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat in Belfast monitor such cases on an ongoing basis.

My government colleagues and I meet regularly with the Minister for Justice of Northern Ireland, David Ford MLA, to discuss prisons, policing and criminal justice matters, as well as other matters of mutual concern. In that regard, I should note the high level of co-operation that exists on justice issues between the two jurisdictions, and in particular the excellent co-operation which exists between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I should also note the exemplary relationship which exists between Minister Ford and successive Ministers for Justice since his appointment in 2010.

I wholeheartedly agree with Minister Ford's analysis that delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building and protecting a more positive future for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (56)

Finian McGrath

Question:

56. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will push for the implementation of the Haass proposals in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22319/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I met with Dr Haass on 23 May when he visited Dublin after his visit to London on 22 May. We share the view that progress in the Party Leaders Talks is urgently needed. I remain convinced that the best way forward for dealing with important issues such as parades, flag and identity issues and dealing with the past, is the early, successful conclusion of these talks. Maintaining the status quo in relation to these issues is not a feasible or satisfactory option for anyone. I believe that there is a window of opportunity to reach agreement before the summer and I will continue to encourage the NI parties over the coming weeks towards that end.

The Irish and British governments are agreed on the need to make progress within the talks without further delay. I have remained in close contact in this regard with the Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers, who I will meet next on Thursday 29 May when she is scheduled to visit Dublin.

Northern Ireland Issues

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 49.

Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 54.

Questions (57, 58)

Micheál Martin

Question:

57. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recent comments by the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland regarding possible party political activities within the PSNI; if he and his Department are concerned about same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22603/14]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

58. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken to Secretary of State Villiers regarding the allegations made by the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland regarding possible activity within the PSNI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22604/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 58 together.

Since the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by the PSNI in 2001 as recommended by the Patten report in 1999, Northern Ireland has benefitted from a new beginning for policing and for public confidence in policing. As part of the transformation in policing accountability mechanisms are in place to hold the PSNI to account, including the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The Policing Board is an independent public body made up of Political and Independent Members tasked with ensuring an effective, efficient, impartial, representative and accountable police service which commands the confidence of the whole community. Criticisms and concerns about policing policy and operations are normally pursued through these bodies.

I note the comments made by the Deputy First Minister in relation to the PSNI on 1 May. I also note that on the evening of 3 May, the President of Sinn Féin, Mr Gerry Adams TD re-iterated his support for the PSNI, which I welcome. This statement of clarified earlier remarks and was in line with Sinn Féin's consistent support for policing since they joined the Northern Ireland Policing Board in 2007.

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 49.
Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 54.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (61)

Michael McNamara

Question:

61. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise with his Sudanese counterpart the case of a person (details supplied), who has been sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy in Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22868/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government, and our European Union partners, are completely opposed to the death penalty in all cases. We also attach the utmost importance to combating all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief. Freedom of religion or belief is one of Ireland's priorities for our membership of the Human Rights Council, from 2013 to 2015, and we have played a central role in the negotiation of two important resolutions on this issue in the past year.

I am appalled by the sentencing of Mrs. Mariam Ishaq. On 15 May, the EU issued a statement expressing dismay at the sentence and emphasising that freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right that must be protected everywhere and for everyone. Sudan has ratified the relevant United Nations and African Union conventions and has an international obligation to defend and promote freedom of religion or belief. Ireland and our EU partners have been calling on all countries to repeal legal provisions that penalise or discriminate against individuals for leaving or changing their religion or belief or for inducing others to change a religion or belief, especially when such cases are punishable by the death penalty. We are committed to working to ensure that citizens of Sudan and elsewhere do not suffer violence or discrimination on the grounds of religion.

I have asked our Embassy in Cairo, which covers Sudan, to monitor the case of Mrs. Ishaq closely, and to ensure that our serious concerns are understood. We will also continue to follow developments in cooperation with our EU partners.

Passport Applications

Questions (62)

Finian McGrath

Question:

62. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding a passport in respect of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22874/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This passport was issued on the 15th May 2014 and sent to our mission for onwards transmission to the applicant.

Driver Licences

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 55.

Questions (63)

Pat Breen

Question:

63. Deputy Pat Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the concern among the Irish community in Canada regarding the delay in reaching agreement with various Canadian provinces on driving licence exchange; and if he will provide an update on this matter. [23043/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am deeply conscious of the unease within the Irish community in Canada about the lack of reciprocal arrangements with the various Canadian Provinces, each of which is responsible for regulating and issuing licences to motorists resident within its own jurisdiction. The lack of such agreements with Ireland can have the effect of restricting the opportunities for employment for holders of Irish drivers' licences in Canada. This is particularly important to us given the large number of Irish people moving to Canada in 2014. A number of other EU jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, have such agreements with several of the Canadian provinces and I strongly support efforts to achieve similar rights for the holders of Irish driving licences. Our Ambassador in Ottawa, Ray Basset, is in constant contact with the Irish community in Canada, and he has relayed to me their concerns about the lack of reciprocity. I have instructed him and his staff to continue to do all within their power to identify through their local contacts and experience any way in which matters may be brought forward more quickly.

In this regard our Embassy in Ottawa is working closely with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, under whose aegis the Road Safety Authority is conducting the negotiations for Ireland. The Embassy will continue to offer their advice and support to the negotiations, as well as communicating with the Irish community to ensure that they have access to accurate information. Ministerial responsibility for the conclusion of these agreements lies with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I know that the Minister answered a Written Parliamentary Question from the Deputy on 13 May on the progress of negotiations. I can provide no further update on that, but I do wish to assure the Deputy that the needs of Irish communities abroad in this regard are very much understood and that the Embassy will continue to do everything within its power to support a positive outcome.

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 55.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (65)

Micheál Martin

Question:

65. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken to or written to the Ukrainian Prime Minister following recent events there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20858/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

While I have not personally spoken to Prime Minister Yatsenyuk following recent events in Ukraine, the European Union through President Van Rompuy and the Commission continues to maintain regular contact with the Prime Minister and the interim government in Kiev and to keep member States informed of these discussions. President Van Rompuy held talks with the Prime Minister in Kiev on 12 May where he called for the implementation of the Geneva Joint Statement on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tension and restore security. He urged Russia to call upon the armed separatists to lay down their weapons and to vacate the buildings which they are illegally occupying.

On 13 May, President Barroso and members of the Commission met with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and members of the Ukrainian government in Brussels. As the President of the Commission stated, the joint meeting was part of the EU's continued support for a stable, sovereign, democratic and peaceful Ukraine. President Barroso and the Prime Minister signed a new “State Building Contract” programme worth €355 million which, together with €10 million to support civil society, will help the government to address short-term economic stabilisation needs and implement governance reforms aimed at promoting inclusive socio-economic development.

This meeting in Brussels has been followed up with a visit to Kiev by Commissioner Fule on 16 May and by Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas on 20 May who met with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and Finance Minister Shlapak. As well as demonstrating the EU's political support and engagement, these contacts reinforce the message that the Union is fully committed to helping Ukraine to address its major economic challenges. In the short-term, the Union's efforts are focused on providing exceptional Macro-Financial Assistance. Provided the agreed reforms are implemented effectively and on schedule, the Commission expects to be able to disburse €1.6 billion during the course of this year.

Ireland and its EU partners stand firm in upholding Ukraine's unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and hope that last Sunday's Presidential election represents an important stage on the path towards the consolidation of an inclusive, representative and peaceful future for all Ukrainians.

International Relations

Questions (66)

Micheál Martin

Question:

66. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the Taoiseach's visit to Rome, where he spoke with the Pontiff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20848/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Taoiseach represented the Government at the canonisation of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II in Rome on Sunday 27 April. After the ceremony, he had the opportunity to speak with Pope Francis. During the exchange, the Taoiseach conveyed to Pope Francis that were he to accept an invitation to visit Ireland from the Catholic bishops, such a visit would have the full support of the Government of Ireland. The Government would hope that were Pope Francis to visit Ireland, he would also take the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach also discussed the shared hope that the Pope would visit Ireland with Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, at the Pontifical Irish College.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (67)

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

67. Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if emergency aid has been considered for flood relief in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23137/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Over 50 people are reported to have died and 950 000 people have had to evacuate their homes in the worst floods in Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina in more than a century. In total, an estimated 1.5 million people have been affected by this flooding disaster in the Western Balkans region. On 15 May, the Governments of both affected states declared a state of emergency and requested assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. In response, the EU has provided rescue boats, high capacity pumps, rescue and evacuation helicopters, generators, sandbags, tents, and blankets, as well as over 400 experienced personnel to assist with the relief efforts.

Through Irish Aid in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland is providing €50,000 to the NGO World Vision Ireland to support the relief effort. World Vision, which has been operating in Bosnia since the late 1990s, was one of the first agencies to respond to the flooding in the country, providing much needed items, such as food, water and hygiene kits, water pumps. Our assistance will enable World Vision to continue to support affected communities, in particular through the provision of psychosocial support and counselling services to children affected by the floods. The funding will also be used to purchase vaccines to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases among animals and any consequent risks to human health.

In addition to this funding, Ireland has donated some 5,000 litre water tanks from Irish Aid stocks pre-positioned in Brindisi, Italy, and has highlighted our willingness to release any further essential relief items that may be required. We are in regular contact with the national authorities of Serbia and BiH through our accredited Embassies, and through our EU counterparts. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and to work at EU level in coordinating an effective response.

Overseas Development Aid Oversight

Questions (68)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

68. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the specifics of the new initiative he launched at the meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, through which Ireland, Mozambique, Finland and Switzerland will work together to strengthen the quality and co-ordination of development co-operation in Mozambique and to bring new donors, such as China and Brazil, and civil society organisations into aid co-ordination and planning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23192/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I represented the Government at last month's inaugural High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Mexico. For Ireland an overriding priority for the partnership, and one which informed our participation in Mexico, is to renew momentum on strengthening aid effectiveness at country level. Ireland has a strong record on making aid more effective, on harmonising and aligning our aid behind the development efforts of our partner countries. This has been recognized clearly by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee. A continuing commitment to aid effectiveness is a key element of the Government's policy on international development, One World One Future.

The progress that has been made in delivering on the principles and commitments of effectiveness since the Paris Declaration has improved the impact of aid and strengthened partner countries' own development efforts. Joining donor support together behind national policies and programmes and using it to strengthen country systems has been critical to achieving the enormous progress we have seen in improved health and education services, in effectively dealing with the challenge of HIV and AIDS and in the greater efficiency, oversight and accountability of public expenditure and services.

However, our experience at country level since the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011 shows that, in some contexts, the momentum behind the effectiveness agenda has waned. The quality of dialogue has declined; mutual accountability mechanisms seem to be less important, there are fewer examples of joint programmes and collective analysis and a risk of increasing fragmentation of development efforts. The emphasis on development results is often being understood as solely about donors' domestic accountability, rather than also as a means of strengthening partner country systems' ability to deliver development results for their citizens.

With this in mind, I hosted an event at the Mexico meeting, at which an initiative was launched by Ireland, Mozambique, Finland and Switzerland to develop and implement a Joint Agenda for Action to renew momentum on effectiveness in Mozambique. The objective of this event was to build on the relationships and structures that have been put in place, to further strengthen Mozambique's development cooperation architecture, which already involves donors, Government and civil society, and to adapt it to better deliver on the principles adopted at Busan in 2011.

The Joint Agenda for Action will consist of a number of measures, to be implemented over the next two years that will:

- Enhance national Ownership and Leadership of development cooperation partnerships

- Focus Results and Policy Dialogue on national development priorities

- Incentivise, and better specify, Accountability and Transparency

- Build a more Inclusive Partnership by opening up existing mechanisms to new players.

The Embassy of Ireland in Mozambique will work closely with the Government of Mozambique in supporting the implementation of this initiative in the years ahead.