Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Earth Summit.

Peter Barry


1 Mr. Barry asked the Taoiseach if he proposes to make any changes in the allocation of responsibilities in relation to the environment as a result of his attendance at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

John Bruton


2 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach whether, following the Earth Summit in Rio, he has satisfied himself that Ireland made a significant contribution to the outcome of the Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Proinsias De Rossa


3 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his participation in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro; if, in regard to the speech he made to the Summit, he will confirm whether any timetable has been set for meeting the commitment he made to increasing overseas aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter in general.

Dick Spring


4 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in so far as his participation was concerned.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

Ireland participated actively in the UN Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED, which took place in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Daly, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, with special responsibility for the protection of the environment, Deputy Harney, participated at appropriate times. I attended the Summit segment of the Conference and addressed it on 13 June.

This was an historic event, involving the participation of well over 100 Heads of State or Government from nearly all parts of the world. I wish to thank the Government and people of Brazil for their generous hospitality and their outstanding commitment in hosting a conference on this scale. The Chairman of the Conference, the Brazilian President, Fernando Collor, brought considerable skill to bear on the proceedings and ensured a successful outcome.


will heighten public consciousness of the major development and environmental problems facing mankind on this earth. According to the UN, these include: population growth which will see an increase of nearly 100 million people in the world each year through the nineties; desertification which now threatens one third of the world's land, affecting 850 million people, changes in the atmosphere through carbon dioxide emissions — particularly by major industrial powers and through the burning of forests — which contribute to global warming; the discharge of chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, which break up the layer of stratospheric ozone that protects us from cancer-causing rays of the sun; and pollution of the oceans through the dumping of untreated sewage, and chemical, including nuclear waste.


was the first global meeting at the highest political level since the end of the division of the world into two political blocs. There was a hope at the Conference that the ending of the old divisions should help to release energies and, given that there was now less need for huge military budgets in some countries, resources for more constructive action by the international community on the sort of problems I have mentioned.

The Conference has resulted in the adoptions of a number of important measures. The Rio Declaration, which is a charter of basic principles about environment and development, was adopted by all participating countries.

I signed, on behalf of Ireland, two major new conventions on climate change and biodiversity. These will commit participating countries to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and taking measures to prevent destruction of genetic species. Special funds will be established under both conventions and will be financed by developed countries, including Ireland, to help developing countries with implementation. These funds will, initially at least, be administered by the new Global Environment Facility of the World Bank.

Agenda 21 is the central part of the UNCED conclusions. It establishes a set of practical programmes for action on climate change, the ozone layer, air and water pollution, the contamination of the oceans and seas, and other global environmental problems. It also covers all the traditional areas of development policy, including action to combat poverty, health and education, the role of women in the development process, changes in consumption patterns — especially in industrialised countries — and the impact of population trends. Ireland will implement the environment aspects of Agenda 21 through our national environment action programme.

The resources needed by developing countries for Agenda 21 were one of the key questions at Rio. Developed countries reaffirmed their commitment to reach the accepted UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP devoted to ODA and, to the extent that they have not yet achieved that target, agreed to augment their aid programmes as soon as possible.

Contributions are to be made by a number of large countries or regional organisations, including the European Community, to provide money for the start up of Agenda 21 in developing countries. The EC initiative will involve the commitment of three billion ECUs to key sectors of Agenda 21 such as poverty relief and food production. I have said that Ireland will participate fully in this initiative. It will be part of the planned programme in increases in our Official Development Assistance in the period 1992-94.

A major concern of UNCED was to halt the destruction of tropical rainforests, which, on food and agriculture organisation estimates, have decreased by some 200 million hectares over the decade to 1990. These forests are vital to the earth's ecological balance. The negotiations were difficult but, in the end, UNCED agreed that work should now quickly proceed on a convention to assist African and other affected countries. A Commission on Sustainable Development is to be set up within the UN system to provide for monitoring of implementation. As soon as the definitive documents from the conference become available, I will arrange to have them placed in the Library.

The success of the Conference will be measured by the action taken to implement these various measures. The consensus in Rio was that a significant start had been made in focusing attention, at the highest level, on the developmental and environmental problems facing the world, north and south, and the place of mankind on this earth.

As the House is aware, the Government assisted the attendance at the parallel Global Forum in Rio de Janeiro of representatives from Irish environment and development non-governmental organisations. I was glad to have the opportunity of visiting the forum and acknowledging the commitment and dedication of its participants from many parts of the world. The Government also facilitated the attendance at UNCED of four representatives from Dáil Éireann, thus enabling them to participate in a number of meetings organised in parallel with the conference.

During my visit I had a number of bilateral meetings. I met the Prime Ministers of Portugal, which at present holds the Presidency of the European Community, Sweden, and Malaysia and the First vice-President of Iran, for discussions on matters of mutual interest and concern, as well as with the British Prime Minister. I will be answering separate questions on this meeting. I also took the opportunity to become acquainted with many other world leaders who were present in Rio.

Finally, I have no proposals to change the allocation of ministerial responsibilities for the environment.

I will be calling Deputies in the order in which their questions appear on the Order Paper.

The Taoiseach has just read a reply to four questions but what we should be having here is a debate on the Rio de Janeiro Summit because many more questions need to be answered. I am extremely disappointed that the Taoiseach is going to make no changes in ministerial responsibility as a result of the Summit, which has focused the attention of Ireland and the world on our responsibility to future generations for the protection of the environment. At present responsibility is spread over at least seven Departments.

We must proceed by way of questions.

Does the Taoiseach not consider that as so many people are responsible for protecting the environment, nobody has primary responsibility? The Minister for the Environment is really Minister for local government. Does the Taoiseach not think it would be much more appropriate if one member of the Government was given responsibility for all aspects of the environment rather than giving responsibility to the Departments of Health and the Environment, local authorities, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Public Works and the Department of Energy? It would be much more satisfactory from the point of view of the Government and the public if one single Minister in the Government was responsible for this matter.

The length of time it took this House to pass legislation setting up the Environmental Protection Agency is a clear reflection of the Government's commitment to the protection of the environment and indeed there is also an environmental action programme dealing with this matter. I do not accept what the Deputy says, that we cannot make the desired progress under the present structures. I can assure the Deputy and the House that we are proceeding with the protection of the environment in terms of our action programme while at the same time ensuring that sustainable development takes place.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions. The Taoiseach told the Rio de Janeiro Summit that Ireland had, to use his words, a planned programme of increases in Ireland's overseas development assistance for the period 1992-94. I understand that our present level of assistance is 0.17 per cent of GNP. May I ask the Taoiseach what is the planned level of ODA for the years 1993 and 1994?

The Deputy, as a former Minister for Finance, knows full well that nobody should anticipate increases in expenditure from year to year. That is a matter for the Estimates.

The Taoiseach should not be making statements like that.

The Deputy must also be aware that the revised Programme for Government states that the Government will undertake a planned programme of increases in Ireland's official development assistance from 1992 to 1994 so as to achieve a higher ODA-GNP contribution by the end of that period. Successive Governments have also expressed support for the long term objective of reaching the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP being devoted to ODA. That is the commitment in the Programme for Government and, as the Deputy will be fully aware, we reach our expenditure Estimates every year.

Deputy Proinsias De Rossa.

On a point of order——

Sorry, I indicated at the commencement of questions that I would be calling Deputies in the order in which their questions appear on the Order Paper, and I am doing that.

On a point of order, I indicated without any interruption from you, Sir, that I intended to ask two questions. The fact that I allowed the Taoiseach to answer the first of those questions should not act to my disadvantage.

I am adhering to my original decision in the matter and I will call the Deputy again.

I had two questions to ask the Taoiseach. Will you not allow me to ask the second question?

My question No. 3 relates specifically to the Government's timetable for increasing ODA. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach would indicate what the timescale is and to what extent the commitment to increase ODA will be fulfilled. What portion of an increase will there be? May I also ask the Taoiseach with regard to the conventions signed at the Rio Summit what policy implications there are for this country arising from those conventions and what resources will be provided for the implementation of those policy implications? Finally, would the Taoiseach provide for a debate on the Summit as soon as the documents are made available in the Library?

I have no hesitation in considering the request for a debate on the outcome of the Summit when the documents become available. As to the other aspect of the Deputy's question, the timescale for the programme of increasing contributions is, as I have already stated and as is enshrined in the Programme for Government, 1992-94. I would also inform the Deputy and the House that during the Summit the EC made a commitment of three billion ECUs to give a kick start to agenda 21 and, of course, I committed Ireland to full participation in that. This is in addition to the ODA level of funding.

I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to a full debate on the resolutions of the conference at Rio de Janeiro. I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that he will have the support of all parties in this House in relation to the Government's efforts to increase our overseas development aid, but the problems of Africa probably will not wait until we produce our budget next January. I suggest to the Taoiseach that he should take the initiative at the next Summit and call upon our EC colleagues to take positive action in relation to the forthcoming disasters, which we have all read about in recent days, that are inevitable on the sub-Continent of Africa unless immediate action is taken?

I can inform Deputy Spring that in my discussions both in Rio de Janeiro and last Thursday with the Prime Minister of Portugal — which holds the Presidency of the Council — the threatening famine in Africa was raised and I have little doubt that it will be on the agenda for discussion next weekend. I would be glad to discuss in the House, when all the documentation is available, the outcome of the Rio Summit and its implications for Ireland in the future.

Would the Taoiseach agree that he has no need to wait until the summit of EC partners in Oporto to make a statement that the Irish Government are prepared, in view of the emergency developing in Africa, to make additional funds available? If the Taoiseach wishes that the House provide a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Foreign Affairs for official development aid I can assure him that this side of the House will be more than willing to make the time available this week. Would the Taoiseach agree that some of those who read his statement in Rio de Janeiro that there is, to use his words, a planned programme of increases for the next two years in ODA will be disappointed to hear today that the Taoiseach cannot give a figure for next year let alone for the year after? May I ask the Taoiseach further, to explain a statement he made in his speech in Rio de Janeiro to the effect that when he returned to Ireland he would be asking all our development agencies to review their schemes to ensure that they are based on sound ecological principles, so as to provide for sustainable development of natural resources? Does that statement indicate that the Taoiseach views some of the work currently being done by our development agencies as not being based on sound ecological principles and in need of prompting from him to ensure that it is so based?

It is no harm to review all schemes from time to time to ensure that money is being spent in the way we would like. There is nothing wrong with reviewing schemes, and the schemes in this area are no different to any others.

Could I ask three questions——

One question was a statement and I am not sure to what it was supposed to refer. I was not too clear what the other question was about.

Could I dissuade Members from raising too many questions——

If I may help the Taoiseach——

——tending towards debate.

The first question was, if the Taoiseach would agree that the situation in Africa is so urgent that it would justify him not waiting for the Summit but providing for a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Foreign Affairs, this week? The second question was, will the Taoiseach agree that there may be some disappointment amongst those interested in ODA when comparing the Taoiseach's reference to a "planned" increase in the next two years in ODA, and his inability——

We are having repetition, as well as very long questions.

——to give an indication of any figures today?


Let us have brief, relevant and succinct questions.

Can we have an answer?

I answered the second part of the question on two occasions already. With regard to the first part, the Government always take into consideration and keep under review any disasters, and make the appropriate funds available as they deem it necessary.


In relation to Agenda 21 does the Taoiseach support the European Commission's report, "Towards Sustainability", in particular the reference to nuclear waste management? What action have the Government taken in relation to the reprocessing plant at Sellafield? Did the Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, authorise money for the nuclear reprocessing industry as alleged in today's newspapers?

It seems to be a separate matter. Although it is relevant to the environment I would much prefer a separate question.

It is a totally separate question.

It is much closer to home.


The latter part of my question may well have strayed slightly but the first part is relevant. Do the Government, and the Taoiseach, support the Commission policy towards sustainability, which is part of the EC submission in Agenda 21?

That is also a separate question. If the Deputy wants to put down a further question or leave it to become part of the debate when it takes place I will be quite happy to respond to him.


Does the Taoiseach not agree that he could be accused of hypocrisy, if not fraud, in claiming that his Government were planning increases in ODA, when the level of ODA provided for this year is 0.17 per cent of GNP which is the lowest it has been since 1981? Will the Taoiseach explain how the revised Programme for Government, which was drawn up in October, promised a planned increase in ODA when there has been a reduction this year?

The Deputy is correct in saying that our contribution represents 0.19 per cent of GNP——

It represents 0.17 per cent of GNP. The Minister for Foreign Affairs gave that answer on 26 May.


I will come on to 1992. We started this in 1991 and I am using the year 1991 because it is the year for which the last statistics are available. We are not at the bottom of the league of OECD countries.

The US is lowest.

The US contribute less. I would remind Deputies John Bruton, Jim Mitchell and others that in that OECD list other EC member states do not appear, member states such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

In the case of Portugal it was 0.5 per cent.

Now we are hearing from Mr. Encyclopaedia.


Now we come to 1992.

It is Deputy Garret FitzGerald.


A Deputy

The Taoiseach got too much sun.

I did not get any.

The Taoiseach is talking himself out of his job, very quickly.

May I make a brief point?


Deputy Barnes has been offering for some time.

The Taoiseach has just admitted that ODA assistance for this year is reduced on last year's figure. I would refer the Taoiseach to the reply of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 26 May. Arising from Deputy Spring's question, I wish to point out that at the EC Council of Ministers meeting, six Governments committed themselves to reaching the UN target of 0.7 per cent by the year 2000, three committed themselves to reaching that target as soon as possible and three would not even give that lukewarm commitment, including our Government. Will the Taoiseach at least now agree to commit himself, with the majority of the EC Council of Ministers——

That is not true.

The Deputy seems to be imparting information rather than seeking it.

The Taoiseach is a fraud in this matter.

In the light of what those who attended the summit in Rio learned, will the Taoiseach seriously consider setting the deadline of the year 2000 for committing ourselves to the UN GNP figure? In reviewing submissions here and having regard to ministerial influence at European level in the preparation of the EC initiative on agenda 21, will the Taoiseach ensure that the funds will directly reach the people most in need, particularly women in those developing areas as it is known that the greatest need is among them?

I will keep the Deputy's suggestions in mind when reviewing those schemes. With regard to the Deputy's second question, this matter has been the subject of some discussion at European level. The most recent view that emanated was that the year 2000, or as close as possible to it, is acceptable to most member states.

The Taoiseach is only too well aware that three major ecological problems were not dealt with in full in the Rio Summit — the ban on the export of toxic waste, the problem of the international debt with regard to Third World countries and the ban on nuclear testing. Would the Taoiseach confirm that he will be appealing for international conferences on these three matters so that they can be dealt with as soon as possible at international level?

The international debt problem comes up at meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. Our representative at them, the Minister for Finance, will always put forward the view of the Irish people and the Irish Government. The views of the Government are well known in relation to the question of testing nuclear weapons throughout the world. We will certainly continue to put forward our view at any fora where we get an opportunity to do so.

In view of the Taoiseach's professed interest in the environment at the Conference at Rio, is there any truth in the rumour that the Government are going to renege on the financing of the gas interconnector between Ireland and Scotland, which has major environmental implications for this country?

Surely that is worthy of a separate question.

It relates to the environment.

This is about the Rio de Janeiro Conference.

The Taoiseach went to the Rio de Janeiro Conference and told world leaders that he was interested in the environment. Is he now going to renege on the proposed gas interconnection between Ireland and Scotland which would be very beneficial to our environment?

I respectfully suggest that the Deputy should put down a question on that matter.

There is no basis whatsoever for that rumour.

Is it only a rumour?

It is a long way from Rio de Janeiro to Scotland.

Indeed, but it is all connected with the environment.

In the course of the Taoiseach's address at the Rio de Janeiro Conference he very correctly referred to the special role played by women in protecting the environment. He referred also to the preparations that are being made now for the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in general. Will the Taoiseach give us an assurance that we will have a full public debate in advance of that conference so that Irish public opinion can be more fully informed on the issues to be considered than they were on this occasion?

I am always available to facilitate the House in every way I can to ensure the fullest public debate possible. However I would not like anybody to take from the Deputy's assertion that we understated in any way the views of the Irish people on the various topics under discussion. Indeed, I think I covered them as adequately as possible within the short time allocated to me, which was equivalent to the time allocated to the President of the United States.

Deputy Barry rose.

I now call Question No. 5.

I asked only one supplementary question.