Private Members' Business. - Development Aid: Motion.

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann notes, with great concern that:

–14 million young children and 10 million older children, and young adults, in developing countries die each year from easily and cheaply preventable malnutrition and disease;

–840 million people in developing countries are malnourished;

–women represent 70 per cent of all pov erty stricken people, followed closely by the elderly in developing countries;

–approximately 79 per cent of the world's population now live in the Third World;

–more than 90 per cent of the 35 million HIV/AIDS infected people live in developing countries, the number having doubled between the years 1990 and 1997;

–life expectancy in the Third World increased by over one third between the years 1960 and 1990, and the infant mortality rate decreased from 76 to 58 per 1000 live births, proving that development aid does work, even though about 1.5 billion people are not expected to survive to 60 years of age, and 340 million women will die before the age of 40;

–2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation; and

noting the pending disaster in the Horn of Africa, where up to 16 million lives are in imminent danger, asks the Government to bring forward immediate legislation to provide for Ireland to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP as a contribution to development aid by 2007, without recourse to the annual Estimates wrangle, thereby ensuring that Ireland maximise its contribution to our famine stricken and poorest neighbours, while equipping ourselves with moral authority in asking other countries to do likewise."

With the permission of the Chair I propose to share time with Deputies Flanagan, Ring and Boylan.

This is a very timely motion given the problems that people are experiencing in the Horn of Africa to which I wish to refer and which were graphically described in the media this morning. This Lenten period we might remember some of our traditions and reflect on the biblical theme of "Who is my neighbour"; on the 14 million young children and ten million older children and young adults in developing countries who die each year from easily and cheaply preventable malnutrition and disease; the 840 million people in developing countries who are malnourished; the women who represent 70 per cent of all poverty stricken people, followed closely by the elderly, in developing countries; the 79 per cent of the world's population who now live in the Third World; the 2.6 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation; the more than 90 per cent of the 35 million HIV/AIDS infected people who live in developing countries, the number having doubled between the years 1990 and 1997; the 16 million people living in the Horn of Africa who are now suffering the effects of famine and drought and whose lives are in imminent danger. We hear much about the global economy. In the global economy these are our neighbours. This morning inThe Irish Times Declan Walsh made the following report:

A small bundle lies inside a dome-shaped hut made from twigs and dirty socks. There is a small toe sticking from the bottom. A young man pulls back the cloth to reveal his four-year-old daughter, Anab, who died hours earlier. "She was losing weight for weeks and couldn't take any food at the end. The only thing was milk and since our animals died, we didn't have any left," says the grief-stricken father, Bishar Sigale, waving flies away from the tiny foot. This is the third child Sigale has lost since arriving at Danan, the town at the heart of the Ethiopian food crisis, four months ago. The family of nine trekked for seven days and arrived with nothing after their donkey collapsed on the way . . . after the failure of rain for the fourth successive year in the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia. They have come in search of food and water and found little of either. On average, seven children die every day in Danan – 300 in the past two months.

Just a decade ago this region was green and food-wealthy, so much so it could send its sorghum surplus across the country. Now it is a harsh brown terrain of withered trees and dust swirls whipped up by the oven-hot winds.

The rough roads leading to Danan are littered with a macabre line of rotting cattle, sheep and donkey carcases. Even the camels have started to die.

This scene from Ethiopia was reported on the front ofThe Irish Times this morning and is repeated throughout the developing world on a regular basis. We can change things and development aid does work. For example, life expectancy in the Third World increased by more than one-third between 1960 and 1990 and infant mortality rates reduced from 76 to 58 per 1,000 live births. The dreadful facts remain that about 1.5 billion people are not expected to survive to age 60, and 340 million women will die before age 40.

The 1996 Foreign Policy White Paper stated:

Ireland's relations with the developing countries form an integral part of our foreign policy. There is a demonstrable interconnection between the economic and social well being of all the nations of the world and the maintenance of international peace and stability. Irish aid and development co-operation are practical expressions of Ireland's foreign policy commitment to peace and justice in the world.

The White Paper also set the objectives of development aid as follows:

To reduce poverty and promote sustainable development in some of the poorest countries in the world; to assist in establishing and maintaining peace in developing countries by fostering democracy, respect for human rights, gender and social equality and protection of the environment; to respond promptly to emergencies and humanitarian disasters, both natural and man-made as they occur, and to support preventive measures so that such emergencies may, so far as possible, be avoided; to contribute to building civil society and social solidarity.

To these we might add a fairer deal at World Trade Organisation negotiations, and insistence that the EU gets its act together. In an article inThe Sunday Tribune on 2 April this year, Dave Cronin wrote the following:

Addressing a conference in Amsterdam Poul Nielsson (EU Commissioner) said that the EU commission has just three members of staff allocated to manage each £7 million of development aid under its control, compared to nine in the national administrations of some EU states. He described the objectives of the EU's policies towards the wider world as "too numerous, too vague and incoherent" leading to "very real inconsistencies" between them. This is especially so, he said, in terms of the relationship between food aid, trade policy in agricultural products, and fisheries agreements with developing countries.

Nielsson did not elaborate on the consequences of such bureaucratic befuddlement. But a recent study by Christian Aid and the Dutch aid group Aprodev presents some stark examples, concluding that the EU is flouting the legally binding provisions of the Maastricht Treaty which require that its policies should help eradicate poverty and encourage economic development of long-term benefit to the world's poorest regions.

More fundamentally, development groups are incensed at how three billion euros £2.34 billion of EU development aid overseen by the Commission each year is not spent within that year, with unused funds being returned to the national treasuries from where they originally came. That amount represents 50% of the total for development aid for which the commission bears responsibility. Eurostep has suggested that it could be allocated to resolving the debts owed by developing countries to EU states.

In Amsterdam, Nielsson blamed bad decisions taken before he became a Commissioner for the poor implementation of programmes. "This has left the new commission with a considerable overhang of unspent resources caught some where in the system between directorate Y and committee X and the unfortunate beneficiary country is left wondering what happened to the aid we promised", he is quoted as saying.

Why has our Minister with responsibility for development not brought this to the attention of the House? Why has she not led the charge in highlighting this outrage at a time of so much pandemic and holocaust? The House should inquire into these matters through the Oireachtas Joint Committees on European or Foreign Affairs and I intend to raise the matter there.

Members are not elected by those who benefit directly from development aid and, therefore, the political pressure will always be to allocate funds to domestic projects, often in response to electoral demands. Peace and justice in the world must become more than a White Paper aspiration. It is as much in our own interests as it is in the interest of the developing world that international peace and security is maintained, as the White Paper stated.

Despite the introduction of multi-annual financing of the discretionary elements of the Government's development budget, the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for development aid is not ever met. No matter how much, or how earnestly, the Government of the day promises this, when future Ministers for Finance seek savings there will not be Members from developing countries to speak up for the hungry or the dying. The development budget, therefore, will come under pressure again in the future. This issue will not be grasped for as long as it remains within the framework of the traditional Estimates procedure.

The Government's target of 0.45% of GNP by 2002 should be stated in law, as should an increase of 0.05% for each of the years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, thus meeting our 0.7% commitment in that year. Fine Gael proposed this in a policy document published last year and has won much support for the legislative approach and this motion seeks to achieve this objective. National debt servicing, for example, is met directly from the central fund by legislative authority. This means the Government does not have to come back to the Dáil each year to meet long-term commitments.

In 2007, 0.7% of GNP could be as much as £600 million and there would still be a domestic budget of £84.4 billion. This breakdown of the allocation of money would still require Dáil approval. Accountability for expenditure of such an amount would be essential and could be enhanced by a new Estimates layout, outlining, for example, amounts allocated to non-governmental organisations and amounts proposed for direct aid to other governments or agencies. The Comptroller and Auditor General would need to report regularly on the effectiveness of such expenditure, including examination of the accounts of those who receive aid. Given that those organisations involved in development work are already funded entirely by public contributions, either from the State or the people, it is time to look at the multiplicity of aid organisations, with replicated administrative and other costs. This needs to be done sensitively.

The debt crisis is draining developing countries of desperately needed resources. The cost of servicing debt has reversed some human development gains made from the 1950s onwards. In Tanzania, for example, where 40% of people die before the age of 35, debt repayments are six times greater than health spending. In Africa as a whole, where half of all children do not attend school, governments transfer four times more to northern creditors in debt payments than they spend on health and education. Ireland is not a creditor state, but if we were to meet our UN target we could give leadership to other states to do likewise and carry greater weight in our desire to persuade creditor states to forgive debt. It is easy for us to ask them to do something, it is not as easy for us to do something ourselves but it is time that we did.

In recent years, Ireland's growth rate has been four times the European average, the fastest growth rate in the OECD. Managing our success has become a challenge. We were in great part given tools with which to do the job through EU transfers and access to the Single Market. Over the coming decade, as we plan the share out of this success we should remember our own sad history and set about giving leadership to the world in giving those in greatest need the tools with which to survive.

We need to be realistic in approaching this matter and try to do what is practicable. Long after the Minister for Foreign Affairs and myself have passed through the House we should be able to look back and say that when we had the resources we grasped the nettle, legislated and gave leadership. If we do that we will meet the 0.7% target and we will be able to ask other countries to forgive debt because we will have made our contribution.

I refer to two other issues, one of which is the question of human rights and security. When some people, for example, witnessed the scenes in Kosovo, Somalia, and East Timor in more recent times, they said that somebody should do something about it. Ireland sent peacekeeping troops to these countries in difficult times and the Irish Rangers are in quite a dangerous situation in East Timor. However, the same people who referred to the humanitarian crisis and our moral authority in the world often do not face up to the truth in regard to common defence and security policy issues. If security is to be ensured in regions where there is terrible mayhem, it is not a policy to fight to the last Dutch, Belgian, British or American soldier. We must have an ethical policy.

Law and order in Ireland is a social justice matter. If there is a breakdown, old people, women and children suffer disproportionately. Children cannot be sent to the corner shop to pick up a message for their parents. The same is true of international security because when there is a breakdown the weakest members of society suffer and the bullies survive. We cannot say that we stand for social justice and adopt a hypocritical stance whereby somehow our so-called high moral ground neutrality will influence somebody somewhere to do something about it. There is a changing vista in the EU. It is time that there was more honest debate about it in Ireland and it is also time that we participated in the structures which ensure that there is stability and security and that humanitarian aid can get through. These are vital elements of any policy if we are truly concerned about the plight of our neighbours.

It is crucially important that considerable effort and resources are concentrated on education and development issues. We will not be able to spend the money we want to on development aid if we do not bring people with us. Every Member is already aware of the questions asked about immigrants in the community, such as "why are they getting this or that?". It will only take a short step before people ask why are we spending money on these people. If we take the time to educate the public, particularly the younger members, to bring them with us, they will, through their sense of justice, be the strongest advocates of meeting our UN commitments.

Many NGOs have raised with me the need for greater support for the vital development education work which is taking place throughout Ireland. Quality development education for both children and adults in Ireland should be a priority. If we are to take our share of responsibility in relation to development issues, public opinion which is informed and concerned will be needed. According to submissions made to me by NGOs, when asked how they could most effectively help the people in the Third World, 52% of young people in a survey said it would be helpful to educate people here to change things and an additional 38% of those surveyed said it would be of some help; those figures are from a justice and development issues awareness and attitudes survey carried out by DEFY.

Development education in Ireland has made tremendous progress over the past five years. This is evident, for example, in the proliferation and quality of groups and projects throughout the island in both the formal and non-formal sectors of education, the growing official recognition and promotion of development education at Government and non-governmental levels, the local and community groups which now make links between local and global justice and human rights issues and, importantly, in the heightened level of awareness and informed debate in the media and in Irish civil society overall.

An educated public is essential to ensuring support for an expanding Irish aid programme and development education has a primary role in ensuring such support. This issue has been raised with Fine Gael by a number of NGOs. They have recommended that funding for development education should be increased to 5% of the bilateral aid programme in a staged series of increases with an interim target of 3% to be allocated by 2002.

While Irish bilateral aid has increased, the share to development education has remained fairly stagnant since 1995. Between 1995 and 1997, development education's actual share of the bilateral aid budget decreased from 1.1% to 0.8%. We must ensure that trend is not only arrested but that it is reversed.

There are no votes inside or outside this House for the motion before us tonight. It is not about party politics. It is not about one-upmanship. This is about concern. I started by saying we are in a Lenten period. I happen to believe that there is still a large number of people who believe in the old traditions, for example, of alms giving during Lent. The Minister could make a significant contribution to a change in foreign policy – I said that to him on the first day of his appointment. If anybody can do it, he can. I ask him to legislate for this. We will support the legislation. We will not make a party political issue out of it. We will not embarrass him. The situation is grave and it is such a holocaust and a pandemia that we have to take those special steps.

I ask the Minister, before this debate concludes tomorrow night, if he is not in a position to say so now, to take on board this proposal to legislate. We will never meet that 0.7% unless we do so.

In the brief time available to me I want to congratulate my colleague, Deputy Mitchell, on tabling the motion, on his opening statement and on his fine document concerning our neighbours that he produced on behalf of Fine Gael some time last year. That document should be read by Deputies on all sides of the House. I am aware it has been extensively read and welcomed by groups and individuals outside the House.

It is utterly unacceptable that millions of people in the developing world will starve to death while we in Ireland enjoy the fruits of the Celtic tiger. That was briefly referred to by Deputy Mitchell when he mentioned the question of refugees and asylum seekers. I admit to being appalled at the level of criticism and racism apparent in this country in the context of the refugee and immigration issue. Suggestions that certain communities outside Dublin might host asylum seekers have resulted in a shocking wave of criticism and intolerance that surely flies in the face of Ireland of the welcomes. I have heard nothing less than unadulterated xenophobia in recent times, so much so that I would remind people of the existence of the Incitement to Hatred Act. That Act should be dusted down in many of our Garda stations throughout the country.

There is a firm duty on civil and Church leaders to lead and mould public opinion on the matter of asylum seekers. Many of these people are in a difficult and frightening position. As refugees they have suffered, and being strangers in some of our towns is, unfortunately, not a pleasant experience. With the approach of the Christian festival of Easter, the words of Christ – a gentleman I have never quoted in the House before – are apt: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me". That is appropriate having regard to the immigration and refugee challenge currently facing us.

On the motion, I am concerned at the continued manipulation by the IMF which loaned vast sums of money to the poorest countries at supposedly low interest rates. In return for this borrowing, these countries must implement the most harsh of economic policies managed and controlled by the IMF. This results in swingeing economic cuts, devastation of local services at the most basic level, drops in primary school enrolment, rising malnutrition, swift removal of trade barriers resulting in the collapse of local industry and cuts in public employment giving rise to thousands of job losses in countries where there is no alternative employment available. Since the IMF is not considered a development bank, its role is short-term stabilisation rather than having any long-term view. It has far too much power in proportion to its expertise and, in effect, it usurps the role of directly elected governments.

Vital resources are being drained from developing countries by the high level of international debt. I visited Tanzania a few years ago and experienced at first hand the positive fruits of Ireland's development aid. I saw the valuable work of the ESB personnel from my own constituency who embarked on a most worthwhile programme of rural electrification. The other side of the same coin in Tanzania is the strangulation by debt. A total of 40% of the people in Tanzania die before they reach the age of 35. Debt payments in Tanzania are six times more than the amount available for spending on health.

For many years, Trócaire highlighted the adverse impact on human rights of institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. While the highly indebted poor countries' world debt initiative, which is to be welcomed, has proved beneficial, it represents a mere tip of the iceberg. It is clear that many developing countries are buckling under the sheer weight of international debt obligations. They cannot become released from this huge burden. We are not calling for the entire debt to be written off throughout Africa but we need a European co-ordinated policy. I hope the Minister will give a lead in ensuring that there is a viable and respected policy from the European Union in this regard.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion on this particular issue. I congratulate Deputy Mitchell who brought the motion before the House. He is a man who has great passion for his portfolio. He produced a document of which we are all very proud and he has been consistent on this whole issue over the years. At times I do not agree with him on many issues – I agree with him on others – but on this issue he has my full support.

Deputy Flanagan surprised me with his quotation. I am amazed by the length of time it takes Governments to react, particularly when nightly news reports show young mothers in camps with their children dying in their arms. Why does it take Governments so long to respond? If a war was taking place and the world's oil supply and economic well-being were at stake, those Governments would act promptly. It is terrible that we live in a two tier society. In one part of the world people are dying from overeating while in the other part people are dying of starvation. In Europe, the EU is paying farmers to store food or place it in intervention while people are dying in other parts of the world. That does not make sense.

Governments – I include our Government in this but I refer particularly to its American and British counterparts – spend millions of pounds each day on armaments for their military forces. That money should be spent on helping those who need it. We have entered the new millennium and it makes no sense that young mothers and their children should be starving while our Governments fail to respond. If wars are taking place in the countries affected by famine, nations with well equipped armies should deal with Governments which are stopping people transporting food into areas where people need it. Armies should be used to ensure that these young mothers and children are prevented from dying.

I take this opportunity to compliment nuns and priests for the work they have done in this area over the years. Priests have come in for a great deal of bad press in this country in respect of certain matters which occurred in the past. However, priests, nuns and lay people have travelled to countries in need, identified and dealt with the problems they encountered but they have never received the credit they deserve. I wish to place on record the thanks of the Irish people to those who went abroad to help others. In some instances, these people have died for what they believed in.

Another person to whom I wish to refer – I heard him interviewed on radio today – is John O'Shea, a man who is very passionate about his job. I compliment Mr. O'Shea who has travelled abroad to countries in need and, with those employed by his organisation, identified many problems. As Deputy Gay Mitchell stated earlier, the people in these countries have no one to represent them and it is left to John O'Shea and others to do so. I congratulate John O'Shea, our priests, nuns and lay people who have given of their time for this good cause.

I wish to make a plea to young doctors and nurses who are about to obtain their qualifications and embark on their careers. Perhaps some of these people might consider devoting six months or one year of their lives to helping those in need in other countries and giving them the care and love they require. I make my plea to those who, later in life, will have ample opportunity to embark on their careers. I ask them to give of their time to helping people in the Third World.

Deputy Mitchell inquired about those who suffer when events of this kind take place. One need only look at media reports to realise that women are the greatest sufferers. Women are always the ones who suffer.

I urge the Minister to respond favourably to this motion. Irish people are always very generous when asked to respond to requests for charitable donations. In my local church in West port last weekend, over £4,000 was collected. If the people respond, the Government should also respond. If it does not do so tonight, I hope it responds positively to the motion tomorrow evening.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this emotive issue. I compliment Deputy Gay Mitchell on his well researched presentation. The Deputy prefaced his remarks by asking "Who is my neighbour?" In my catechism my neighbour was all mankind, even those who injure or offend us. The poor people of Mozambique or the eastern region of Ethiopia never offended or injured us, but they should be offended by the Government's response to their terrible plight.

The recent floods in Mozambique and the drought in Ethiopia are the result of excessive rain in one country and a complete lack of it in the other. Everyone has seen television reports of flood waters devastating homes, towns and villages in Mozambique. Rich farmland has been washed away, starvation is rife and there are rotting corpses everywhere. In Ethiopia, the drought has lasted four years. The countryside is barren, cattle are dying and everything necessary for human survival is simply vanishing off the face of the earth. The UN's contribution to alleviating the crisis there is to supply 4.5 kilogrammes of rice per person per month.

What has been the Government's contribution and is it aware of the plight of these countries? Its members should hang their heads in shame. The Exchequer returns for the first three months of the year show a surplus of £1 billion. Did the Government, when it received this good news, state that we are doing so well we should help poorer nations? All we heard in respect of making a contribution was silence. However, the Government has gloated about how well the country is doing. Of course we should rejoice at our good fortune, but we should also remember those who are less fortunate.

Two weeks ago I took up a church gate collection in my village, Butler's Bridge, which is home to a small rural community, for the Mozambique flood disaster fund. I was overwhelmed by the response of ordinary decent people who freely placed £5 notes on the table. However, I was struck by the fact that parents placed coins in their children's hands and encouraged them to place the money on the table. That is the right way to raise children. Butler's Bridge is no different from any other parish in County Cavan or elsewhere throughout the country. The people have responded and are leading the way. The Government has failed us.

The Minister has a duty to represent the country properly. The people want the Government to respond to the devastation caused by these terrible natural disasters in Africa. The famines afflicting Mozambique and Ethiopia were not caused by war, they are the result of natural disaster. The Government should be loud in its call to the superpowers to cancel these unfortunate countries' debts. It is not that they want to run away from their debts but natural disasters have wiped out their means of survival. They will recover in time and if we take action to help them I am sure we would be happy if they responded in kind in years to come. Such debts are never forgotten.

I join Deputy Ring in paying tribute to the members of religious orders – nuns and priests – and lay missionaries who have travelled to Africa to offer their help. I acknowledge the work of people who are well off and who devote their holiday time to working in poor countries. There are great people in this country, people who are prepared to make that sacrifice and to reinvest a little of what they have obtained. However, the Government has failed the people.

The Minister has a duty to represent the people. I have no doubt that the people in his constituency are no different from those who live in counties Cavan or Monaghan and they will give him the same message. The people want the Government to play its part. We have the leading economy in Europe, a fact of which we can be proud, but we must also take the lead in terms of the contribution we make. We must set an example for other member states and encourage them to make a contribution. If the Government takes such action it will enjoy the support of the people. As Deputy Mitchell stated, this motion was not tabled to gain votes, it was tabled because we have a duty to help those who are less well off in countries which are ravaged by famine.

I move amendment No. a1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann:

–acknowledges the progress made by successive Governments in increasing the resources for development aid;

–commends the response of the Government to the crisis in Ethiopia and the recent emergency in Mozambique; and

–approves the approach of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in carrying out a review of the aid programme, the outcome of which will include a commitment to reaching the UN target for aid allocations of 0.7 per cent of GNP within a specific time frame while maintaining the aid programme's reputation for quality aid and effective management.".

I am delighted we are discussing this subject in my first debate as Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is a most important aspect of our deliberations in the Department. It is especially apt at this time of crisis in Ethiopia that the House should debate not only the issue of emergency aid but the aid programme as a whole. The interest shown through the debate is a reflection of the compassion of the Irish people for those facing disaster and famine and of the public support for tackling the poverty of developing countries. Although we may occasionally differ in emphasis, it is important to acknowledge that there is a political concord across the political spectrum in support of a strong programme of development assistance.

First I will address the crisis in Ethiopia. The recent humanitarian emergency in Mozambique and the looming crisis in the Horn of Africa once again focus our attention on the terrible poverty suffered by the people on that continent. That poverty reduces their ability to cope with the effects of drought, floods and other natural disasters. It leaves roads unpaved, wells undug and vaccinations unavailable. It is exacerbated by conflicts and massive displacement of people. While we must respond generously to humanitarian emergencies, we must at the same time work towards long-term solutions. We must empower countries to prevent or at least mitigate the worst effects of these adverse climatic conditions. We must work with the rest of the international community to improve early warning systems and to put in place effective national disaster response mechanisms.

Ireland responded quickly and effectively to the terrible aftermath of the flooding in Mozambique. The embassy in Maputo got directly involved in the response. Emergency assistance was provided through our aid programme, Irish NGOs and through the United Nation's humanitarian agencies. We continue to provide emergency and rehabilitation support. We are committed to working with the Government and people of Mozambique towards the only viable solution which is long-term sustainable development which incorporates emergency preparedness and mitigation policies and mechanisms.

Attention has now shifted to the Horn of Africa where up to eight million people in Ethiopia and a further six million in the Horn of Africa are potentially at serious risk if the next rains, due in June, fail and if food is not prepositioned for such an eventuality. Three years of drought and the failure of the most recent rains have left crops withering in the fields and thousands of animals dead for lack of water. A sign of the seriousness of the situation is the death of the most vulnerable people, very young children and the elderly. At present between 60,000 and 100,000 people are severely malnourished. The latest information we have from our embassy in Addis Ababa is that help is arriving and more is on its way from the Government of Ethiopia, the UN World Food Programme, the major donors and the international NGOs.

There is still time to avert the present terrible situation from developing into a major disaster. Over 800,000 tonnes of food aid has been pledged by the EU, US and other donors. This is considered sufficient for the needs which are likely to arise this year. Obviously needs assessments are being carried out constantly and the needs revised as more reliable information becomes available. There are problems with the capacity of the available ports, the state of the roads and available land transport. The international community and the Government of Ethiopia are working to improve logistics.

The World Food Programme is helping increase the capacity of the port at Djibouti which is the main access point. The port in Berbera, Somalia, is also being used. The donors are working together so that these facilities are used as efficiently as possible. By the end of April, 46,500 tonnes of EU food aid will have arrived in Ethiopia for distribution by the NGOs and the World Food Programme. The EU is also looking at airlifting supplementary food for the most vulnerable children in the worst affected region of Ogaden. The World Food Programme has airlifted food this week to an area, south of Gode, where about 9,000 people have gathered in a makeshift camp.

It is vitally important to preposition basic supplies in the more remote areas before the main rains of June and July, assuming they come. These rains will make transportation even more difficult if not impossible.

We have been following the deteriorating situation for a number of months and have not waited to be prompted by pictures on TV to respond. Ireland Aid has been allocating humanitarian resources consistently throughout 1999 and early this year to a number of these so-called "silent emergencies" in the Horn and other parts of Africa, including Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Angola and Sierra Leone.

A team from Ireland Aid recently travelled widely in Ethiopia, which is one of Ireland's priority countries, and saw for themselves the effects of the drought. Since last December, we have provided £359,000 in emergency assistance to Ethiopia through Concern and the World Food Programme. The embassy in Ethiopia is finalising, in consultation with the local and regional authorities, proposals for the reorientation of substantial programme assistance towards alleviating the suffering of the people. We will also continue to work with the Irish NGOs who have international standing and who are in a position to respond rapidly and effectively to the suffering of the Ethiopian people. Our embassy in Addis Ababa will, of course, continue to do all it can to facilitate the Irish NGOs in their work, as it has done in the past.

Officials from my Department have also been working during the last months and weeks to raise awareness of the pending crisis at EU and UN humanitarian fora. Yesterday at the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, I pressed for early and appropriate action by the EU. I also stressed the urgency of an immediate response in bilateral conversations with Commissioner Patten. The Council called upon Ethiopia and Eritrea to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to ensure its security. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, raised the issue with Commissioner Nielson who assured her that sufficient food aid had been pledged and was on its way. He added that the European Community Humanitarian Office – ECHO – and the food aid unit of the development directorate had missions in Ethiopia. They would formulate joint conclusions and recommendations for further action.

Ethiopia is one of Ireland's six priority countries for development assistance in Africa and we have been working over a number of years to help prevent and mitigate disasters in this country of chronic food deficits. Indeed, the decision to commence a programme in that country in 1994 was taken in the context of a logical follow through from the substantial emergency assistance provided by Ireland during the disastrous mid-1980s famine. Our approach at that time, and it is still the case, was to provide maximum assistance in a crisis, followed by a concentration on getting viable long-term development under way again. Successful programmes have been developed in consultation with the Ethiopian authorities and communities in the area of food security and land and water management.

I wish to mention a couple of salient examples of the type of approach which is currently paying dividends and which is likely to prove viable in the future. In the lowlands of Sidama in the southern region, an area which unusually is being affected by severe drought, improved water conservation ponds developed by Ireland Aid are now proving their worth. In some cases they are the only source of water for the people and their farm animals.

In Tigre in the north-east, a necessarily more complex and wide ranging approach is being taken to the question of land degradation and drought. An integrated water management programme involves a series of linked interventions ranging from building dams to replenishing native trees and shrubs in order to prevent soil erosion. These also help provide a constant source of water with guaranteed fodder for cattle during the dry season. There is already evidence that these measures have an effect. There is a greater availability and diversity of food sources for the people. This year about £3 million, or approximately 20% of the annual Ireland Aid budget for Ethiopia, is devoted to long-term food security programmes.

Our programme in Ethiopia is operated collaboratively with Ethiopian authorities and communities and is informed by the spirit of partnership. All funding is applied directly to human development priorities such as food security, primary health care and basic education and there is rigorous auditing of all expenditure. In the light of the current emergency, we will adopt a highly flexible approach in collaboration with our Ethiopian partners with a view to redirecting some programme resources to the emergency response while continuing to maintain our focus on long-term development.

The eradication of poverty is the key to preventing loss of life and devastation caused by natural disasters. This can only be achieved through policies and programmes which focus on long-term sustainable development. Given the predictions of continued adverse climatic conditions, we will need to work even harder to build disaster prevention and mitigation into our long-term development programmes. The empowerment of countries in this way to better cope with natural disasters will help to save countless lives in the future.

I will now discuss the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In Cairo last week during the Africa-Europe Summit, intense diplomatic efforts continued in a bid to bring an end to the long running war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The conflict between these two countries centres on a border area where jurisdiction has been disputed since before Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and is reported to have cost over 30,000 lives.

In July 1999, a framework agreement brokered by the Organisation of African Unity at its summit in Algiers was accepted by both governments. Ade facto interruption of hostilities is in place and it is clear that there is a desire for peace in both countries as well as the political will to bring the conflict to an end. Unfortunately, however, implementation of the Algiers agreement has been delayed by differences between the two sides on the interpretation of the technical arrangements. Efforts continue to resolve these differences.

We know from our experience in Northern Ireland how difficult it is to achieve lasting peace where deep divisions exist and how hard it is to agree the sequencing of the technical provisions of a peace agreement. We must continue to offer encouragement and reassurances to the parties. Sanctions and threats are not the way forward. It would be counterproductive for Western donors to dictate conditions for Ethiopia and Eritrea while they are actively seeking peace. What is required is motivation and support rather than prescription. At all costs, a return to violence must be avoided.

OAU efforts to resolve the conflict have been actively supported by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States. In November 1999, the EU appointed Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Senator Rino Serri as its special representative to support the peace process in the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict. Senator Serri has paid a number of visits to the region, and in Cairo this week was deeply engaged with OAU chairman, President Bouteflika of Algeria and the countries concerned in the ongoing attempts to move the peace process forward. The General Affairs Council considered the current situation yesterday, when Ministers were briefed by Senator Serri.

The EU is actively committed to assist in implementation of the peace agreement as soon as this is possible. The General Affairs Council reaffirmed its strong support for the efforts of the OAU Presidency to bring a speedy end to the conflict and invited its competent bodies to consider the possibility of EU support for the implementation of the peace settlement. It also expressed its concern at the level of arms sales to the region, all the more so given the present humanitarian situation.

There is no doubt that the conflict has exacerbated food shortages in Ethiopia, not least by absorbing resources which could otherwise have been available for development, and has added to the logistical difficulties in delivering food to those who need it. It is, therefore, crucial that the two governments work to secure a durable peace without any further delay. From what I have said, Deputies will gather that the Government is deeply committed to promoting the well-being of Ethiopia – we are in Ethiopia for the long haul, providing support in the bad days, and working in the long-term for real, sustainable development.

I mentioned the public support for a strong development programme. In the context of the Irish programme, strong is the appropriate adjective. By its focus on capacity building and partnerships, by its adherence to the best practices in aid policy, above all by the judgment of its peers, the Irish programme is strong and in the words of the OECD has a "reputation for quality aid". While aid includes responding compassionately to emergencies like that which is occurring in Ethiopia, it is also especially about addressing long-term development needs, the steady building of the capacity which enables poorer countries to help themselves, and sustainable development.

The Irish programme is strong in policy, strong in implementation and is an integral part of foreign policy. It is a good reflection of current international policy orientations aimed at eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development through a focus on partnerships. It draws on contacts established in developing countries by our missionaries and NGOs.

The components of the Irish programme testify to this concentration on long-term development. The bilateral programme focuses on just six countries in southern and eastern Africa where Ireland Aid is a significant player in helping them to develop all aspects of their social and economic infrastructure, playing a role not unlike that which the EU played in our development. Our multilateral aid assists agencies which play leading roles in development, agencies which deal with children, refugees, AIDS and other health issues, human rights, mine clearance, environmental degradation and women's issues. We have a growing programme of debt relief and, not least, we have a strong programme of assistance through NGOs, who have developed outstanding international reputations and high profiles at home.

That issue of quality aid, to which the OECD referred, is vital. Any current or former aid worker will say that Africa is pitted with the relics of failed aid projects, evidence of western ideas imposed on developing countries without reference to local consideration of need. The Irish programme is not just focused on quality – it is seen to be so. Last year the programme was reviewed by its peer donors in the OECD. The review found that Ireland sets high standards for aid; that we have demonstrated that aid can work; that we have an undeviating focus on poverty reduction; and that we are a strong performer in putting partnerships in place.

This quality aid, which is at the heart of the Irish programme and to which the OECD peer review is testament, took years of patient work to build. A real, working partnership with a developing country begins with building an understanding of its people's reality and with getting beneath the skin of the daily challenges. A social worker in Dublin or an aid worker in Africa will tell of the slow, patient work needed to get beyond the barriers of low self-esteem, common in any environment of poverty. It is also slow work to break down the assumption that outside know-how is better, and to get to a common and real understanding of needs, to get to that tentative beginning of genuine partnership. An authoritative international aid expert addressing a forum in Dublin a few months ago, summed up his caution regarding quick aid with the tongue-in-cheek quip "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Ireland makes no grandiose claims to have cornered the market on quality aid. While the peer review by the Development Assistance Committee, DAC, of the OECD was a welcome plaudit for hard work, it was for past hard work. Maintaining a reputation of quality requires more of the same patient work, more of the steady build-up to a common understanding on which the partnership process is built. What is more, we have to continue to build up our own management capacities to ensure continuing quality, effectiveness and accountability.

What all of this leads to, in the context of a growing programme, is that a balance must be struck between the requirements of quality and chasing a moving target, in the context of the UN target on allocations. Quality aid requires planned, prudent growth in aid involvement and in management capacity. These are the important issues – aid properly targeted and managed will have good, lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of poor people in developing countries. We must not allow an exclusive focus on targets to dilute the quality of the programme or to divert us towards a cheque writing approach to aid.

To begin the process of striking the balance I mentioned, the Government initiated a broad ranging review of the aid programme which addresses two key questions in the context of growth – how to grow and how to manage that growth, two questions specifically raised by the DAC review. In addressing the question of how to grow, the following options for future expansion are being looked at: intensifying existing priority country programmes; launching a new priority country programme; starting different types of activities in the bilateral programme; increasing funding to NGOs and special funds and expanding contributions to multilateral agencies. The considerations to be taken into account in looking at these options are well laid out in the DAC review. I commend it to Deputies with an interest in aid. Apart from these considerations, it is heartening to read how well the Irish programme rates.

In looking at the related issue, how to manage growth, the review of the OECD committee has some cautionary comments. It points out that growth which is too rapid or too erratic can be destabilising and can jeopardise quality, effectiveness and the value of the programme. It suggests that a clear growth path be established for the programme. The cautionary comments cover the programme management also, which the DAC sees as stretched, dependent on a few key individuals and thus highly vulnerable.

Against that background, I will outline for completeness the policy principles and the strategic guidelines which inform our approach. The overarching goal of the official aid programme is to reduce poverty in developing countries. This is in line with international commitments and best practice including, for example, the undertaking by donor countries at the Copenhagen social summit in 1995 to devote at least 20% of aid funds to the basic social sectors, that is, primary education and basic health care. The OECD donor countries have also adopted a set of targets aimed at meeting specific poverty-related goals, such as reducing by two-thirds, infant mortality rates between 1990 and 2015.

With regard to strategy, consistent with the approach taken to EU structural support to Ireland, development aid is seen as a structural intervention to support self-sustaining development within poor countries. The aim is not to alleviate the symptoms of underdevelopment, but rather to contribute to the medium and long-term solution of the underlying problems. The focus, therefore, is on economic growth as well as on the distribution and consumption of resources. There is recognition of the importance of good governance, inclusive political processes and human rights for development. Development encompasses not only material well being but the ability of poor people to assert their rights.

Aid is seen as supporting but not as replacing initiatives taken by developing countries. The aim is not to do things for developing countries but rather to support their efforts to do things for themselves. Accordingly, assistance is provided for activities that are integrated in local policy and administrative processes and that are sustainable in local circumstances. The aid relationship is seen as a partnership built on mutual respect and parity of esteem. It is vitally important that the authorities of developing countries should not be seen as less than equal partners. They should instead have a sense of ownership of aid-supported activities and the people who are intended to benefit should have an opportunity to participate in the process.

Aid can be most effective where there is a supportive policy environment and reasonable standards of public administration. In political terms, the requirement is for systems of government which facilitate broad participation in the development process. In economic terms, experience has demonstrated the value of liberal policies which can set free the potential of individuals and communities. Where the ideal conditions for aid effectiveness are not met, aid can nevertheless be useful, provided there is a commitment, which it can assist, to bringing about the necessary changes.

Irish aid is distributed through three main channels: First, direct development partnerships with a limited number of individual priority countries, second, aid through multilateral organisations such as the EU, the World Bank and the UN, and, third, aid distributed through NGOs and other partner organisations for both smaller long-term development projects and for emergency responses. This approach is seen as providing the optimum means of responding to the diverse needs of developing countries.

The mix of activities supported also responds to the diverse needs of developing countries. Support is provided for debt relief and other forms of programme aid: sectoral programmes, especially in health and education; multi-sectoral programmes focused on particular local government districts; measures to develop administrative and institutional capacity; humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance; measures to support human rights and democratic development; support in the form of project by project funding and, increasingly, block grants for activities implemented by NGOs; volunteer assignments by Irish people; and development education in Ireland, as stated by Deputy Mitchell.

At the same time there is recognition of the value of maintaining a disciplined focus on a limited range of activities. The programme should be known for high levels of professionalism and effectiveness in a limited number of areas rather than a poor quality response across an excessively broad range of activities. We have seen a huge increase in the allocation from £40 million in 1992 to £190 million this year.

As regards meeting the target, there have been changes in the definition of GNP. However, the important point is that the circumstances relating to our levels of economic growth and the need to meet these percentage targets under the criteria should not mask the reality, which is that our aid budget is one of the fastest growing in the world. Deputies should not believe that the Government has abandoned the goal of reaching 0.7% of GNP. On the contrary, at a time when we have joined the ranks of wealthy nations, we are more concerned than ever to ensure that the aid programme should not stall or diminish as a proportion of our national wealth. I am confident that what will emerge from the review is a charter for the future growth of the programme. This will establish an orderly growth path for the programme, maintaining its focused nature and its reputation for effectiveness in sustainable development.

The NGOs are a valuable means of channelling aid for poverty reduction in line with the overall focus of the Ireland Aid programme. Irish NGOs, including our missionary orders, have a strong tradition and considerable experience of working with the poorest of the poor in developing countries. The Government has recognised, in developing a partnership with NGOs over the years, that they have strengths which can contribute to its overall strategies, particularly their ability to work directly with the poorest of the poor. Trócaire, Concern, GOAL and others, as well as our missionary sisters and priests, have demonstrated their commitment to the very poorest, whether in the barrios of Argentina, working with street children in Ethiopia or developing urban and rural communities in Africa. NGOs can often support projects at local level which it is more difficult for public aid to do.

The partnership between Ireland Aid and NGOs, therefore, recognises the close contacts which many NGOs have with local communities and the potential this creates for reaching the poor, giving them a voice and building their capacity to be involved in and to determine their own development. In 1998, for example, a total of £20.7 million or roughly 15% of total ODA was channelled through our NGO system.

In a situation of increased funding for the overall programme, the role of NGOs can and should be strengthened. I am prepared to see enhanced funding being channelled through NGOs. However, I would like to see this combined with a more strategic approach to the way aid is delivered through development programmes co-financed with our NGOs and with increased focus being given to outcomes and impact. The DAC review of the Ireland Aid programme last year noted that direct support for NGO activities and support through NGOs already absorbs a relatively large share of the Government's aid spending. It also pointed to the balance which needs to be struck between increases in funding and the maintenance of quality, something which I am sure the NGOs would endorse.

We are considering the introduction of multi-annual funding for our larger NGOs which are already in receipt of block grant funding. This would facilitate them in better planning of their development activities and provide a greater measure of assurance regarding funding levels. In turn, this should allow NGOs to strengthen their relationships with their local NGO partners in developing countries. As part of this, we are reviewing our existing block grant provisions to see where criteria may need to be revised or strengthened to continue to ensure that funding is consistent with agreed priorities, that public funds continue to be adequately accounted for and that aid continues to be effective and efficient. There needs to be greater public ownership of our aid efforts and, therefore, a partnership with NGOs and a collective endeavour involving not just the State but the various strands of civil society.

The pandemic of AIDS mentioned in the Fine Gael motion is a huge issue with 34 million people living with the HIV virus and, among them, those who have gone on to develop AIDS. Over 95% of the infected individuals live in developing countries, and sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected region of the world. We see the pandemic as a major threat to development progress in all Ireland Aid's priority countries. As a result of his African visit, the Taoiseach has brought this matter to the attention of the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, to urge a revitalisation of the EU's activities in the fight against AIDS. The Taoiseach also called for greater collective action, a more co-ordinated approach at EU level and greater action to assist developing countries to obtain the drugs needed for AIDS patients in developing countries. The reply from the President of the Commission has been encouraging. At Ireland's instigation the Portuguese Presidency of the EU has placed the AIDS issue on the agenda of the Development Council on 18 May. This will be a useful opportunity to promote the need for greater EU co-ordination and to review the level of resources devoted both by the Commission and member states to AIDS programmes.

We have also seen the need for improved governance and adherence to democracy and human rights as a critical feature of the criteria we use for our development aid moneys and that is only right in terms of maintaining an ethical basis to our decisions, as Deputy Mitchell said. Our bilateral programme has a specific thematic and geographic focus. That focus is on the least developed countries and on six such countries in Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique. They all rank low in terms of human development indicators, including the percentage living in absolute poverty and also in terms of life expectancy, adult literacy, infant mortality, access to safe water, sanitation and health services. In these countries the thrust of the programme is on basic needs, rural development, education and health and a framework of democracy and good governance. Most aid in the priority countries is delivered in the form of integrated programmes at regional or local level. The principles that guide this bilateral involvement are the three Ps, poverty, participation and partnership. The overriding focus is poverty reduction.

The huge debt burden on poor developing countries is recognised as a major constraint to their development. It is impossible, from a development perspective, to accept a situation in which poor countries face unsustainable debt burdens when they also have to confront natural disasters, famine, conflict and a HIV-AIDS pandemic. Debt service payments exceed health and education budgets in a number of poor countries. For our part, we have never given development assistance in the form of credits. We are not owed money by developing country governments. Although we are not a creditor, we have allocated £31.5 million to debt relief, including £22 million in contributions to the debt relief activities of the World Bank and the IMF. The remainder is going to help service the debts of priority countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania. In future all countries eligible to receive debt relief will prepare poverty reduction strategy papers in close collaboration with the World Bank, IMF and other key donors. This approach is in line with Irish Government policy which, throughout the review of the HIPC, called for the strengthening of the link between poverty reduction and debt relief.

The Lomé Convention between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific states was agreed during our Presidency of the EU in 1975. The convention has been an outstanding mechanism, providing over 22 billion euros between 1986 and 1998 in development assistance to the ACP countries, with most of these funds going to the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We have made our contribution in that respect as members of the European Union. Ireland Aid has been strongly supportive of efforts at the Development Assistance Committee at the OECD to forge an agreement between donors on the untying of official development assistance to least developed countries. This would be an essential first step in a process which should lead to the untying of development assistance to all developing countries.

At the end of March the UN Secretary General presented a report, We the Peoples: The Role of the UN in the Twenty First Century, which will form the basis of the discussions at the UN millennium summit of Heads of State and Government at the UN in September. The report in the words of Mr. Annan is "hugely ambitious". It sets out the key issues facing the world in the new millennium and proposes a series of initiatives designed to overcome these challenges.

A major section of the report focuses on "freedom from want". The report says that "we must spare no effort to free our fellow men and women from abject and dehumanising poverty" and calls on the international community to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of the world's people, currently 22%, who live on less than one dollar per day, to halve by the same date the proportion of people, currently 20%, who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water and to ensure that by 2015 all children everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

The UN Secretary General calls on the more fortunate countries to grant duty and quota free access to their markets for essentially all products coming from least developed countries. He also seeks an expansion of the current international debt relief programme and demands greater international action in the search for an AIDS vaccine.

Kofi Annan's report is an inspiring document. It has brought all the moral force of his position in the international arena to bear on the key issue of poverty. It reminds us in the most direct and blunt terms that a huge number of our fellow citizens continue to live on less than $1per day. The Secretary General demands that we act now and focus our efforts on the achievement of a number of development targets taken from the agreed results of the major UN conference of the 1990s.

Ireland Aid's policy objectives are very much in line with the thinking of the Secretary General. We are focused on the provision of basic health and education to the poorest of the poor. Our aim also is to lift people out of extreme poverty. Like the Secretary General, we believe this will require more development assistance from the rich countries and that this task will require co-ordinated international action over the long term. Also like the Secretary General, we are concerned by the marginalisation of the world's poorest countries from the global trading system, a system which has brought such economic benefits to Ireland.

The UN Secretary General's report provides our development co-operation programme with a clearly defined path towards the eradication of extreme poverty in the developing world. Its vision should underpin our efforts and inspire our activities.

I warmly welcome the opportunity presented by this motion for a debate on Ireland's policy on overseas development aid. The timing of the debate is particularly appropriate given the horrific film and photographic coverage we have seen in recent weeks of the devastating impact, yet again, of famine and disease in Ethiopia. I also welcome the Minister's speech, which was very good in terms of the objectives the Department is setting out. What was missing from that speech is precisely what we looking for in this debate, which is a commitment to meet the 0.7% of GNP target set by the UN in 1970 within a specified period and to put that in legislation so that the issue is put beyond the annual haggling that takes place in relation to budgetary allocations and to which the ODA allocation has fallen victim, in percentage terms, in the past couple of budgets.

Fifteen years ago the world was temporarily shaken out of its complacency by similar coverage of the famine that was then laying waste to Ethiopia and was to take more than one million lives. We had LiveAid, BandAid and many other fund raising initiatives. The people of this country reacted with particular generosity, contributing millions of pounds to famine relief. We had pledges this would never be allowed happen again. Unfortunately, famine, hunger and the needs of the people of the developing world were allowed slip down the political agenda and many of the pledges of action came to mean very little. I have no doubt the Irish people will react in just as generous a fashion as they did in the mid-1980s and that organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and GOAL will receive many contributions which will allow them alleviate, to some extent, the worst impact of the current famine.

However, the generosity of individuals is not enough. Unless the wealthy countries of the developed world set about substantially increasing our aid programmes and tackling the urgent problem of Third World debt, famine and disease will continue to haunt much of the developing world and millions of people will die unnecessarily. Next year it may be Somalia, the following year Sudan and then back to Ethiopia again, unless concerted action is taken to break the vicious circle of hunger, underdevelopment and debt burden.

The current famine in Ethiopia is particularly tragic because it was forecast by many of the relief agencies operating there. For instance, Trócaire has been implementing an emergency food security operation in Ethiopia since March 1999. While Ethiopia's entirely senseless and pointless war with Eritrea may have been a factor in worsening the situation, the cause of the current famine, which threatens up to eight million people potentially and where 400,000 are at immediate risk, is quite simply the outcome of a three year drought. In more developed countries, drought can lead to losses to farmers and inconvenience for the public. In a cripplingly poor, underdeveloped country like Ethiopia, drought means famine and death. The ordinary people of Ethiopia, who are enduring the brunt of the famine, are not responsible for the war with Eritrea. There must be no question of withholding or delaying aid because of the activities of the warlords in Addis Ababa.

The response of the Irish Government to the famine in Ethiopia has been particularly disappointing, especially given that so many people are in danger. Last month, when the full extent of the crisis began to emerge, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, announced a grant of £100,000 to the UN world food programme, which she stated was "in response to their appeal for funds to address serious food shortages in Ethiopia". Even if that £100,000 is added to the £259,000 allocated over the previous four months, it does not even amount to the cost of a semi-detached house in many areas of this city. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is able to forecast an expected budget surplus of £2.1 billion for the current year, but all we could give to save lives in Ethiopia was a measly £100,000.

Our new found wealth gives us the opportunity and potential not just to address issues of inequality and disadvantage within Irish society, but also to make a more significant contribution to combating famine and disease. Unfortunately, the Government shows no serious inclination to do either. No doubt, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, would regard those who look for a substantial increase in our ODA as "left wing pinkos". The Taoiseach might even regard us as "creeping Jesuses". However, the fact is that the wealth and the will of the Irish people exist to give aid and it is the parsimony of the Government which has resulted in it not maintaining even its own intermediate targets.

The ODA target of 0.7% of GNP was first set by the United Nations in the early 1970s. Thirty years on there is no excuse for not having met it. It might have been understandable in the 1980s, when we had major economic problems, with huge unemployment and a crippling national debt, for progress towards meeting the target to be slow, but there is absolutely no excuse now.

What is even more disgraceful is that the Government is not even going to meet its own much more modest target. An Action Programme for the Millennium, published by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats on taking office in 1997, said that a key priority on taking office would be adopting an interim target of at least 0.45% of GNP by 2002, on the way to reaching the UN target of 0.7%. By the time the review of the action programme was published last October, the date for the achievement of the 0.45% target had been quietly dropped.

The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, told the House on 23 March what we already knew, which is that "it is highly unlikely we will reach the target by 2002". The rather pathetic excuse offered by the Minister was that this was because of a change in the calculation of GNP. We all know the reason is that the Minister of State lost out in the budgetary haggle which resulted in ODA not getting its share. New targets are now being thrown around. The Minister talks about reaching 0.5% of GNP by 2005 while at the recent Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis the Taoiseach spoke of 0.7% by 2007. The reality is that the Government has failed miserably to meet its own target. This year the budget is only around 0.3% of GNP, just marginally ahead of the level when the Government came to office.

The failure of other countries to meet their commitments is no excuse either. We should seek to be a model for Europe and the developed world. We should follow the example of another small European country, Denmark, which already spends almost 1% of its GNP on development co-operation. It is one of the most generous contributors in the OECD, with its aid amounting in 1998 to £1,704 million.

I support fully the principle of the Fine Gael motion, that legislation should be introduced to provide for Ireland to meet the 0.7% target. As the motion says, this would remove ODA from the annual Estimates wrangle. In January of this year, my party Leader, Deputy Quinn, published the text of a Private Members' Bill, the Ireland Aid Bill, 2000, which would have placed a legal requirement on whatever Government was in office to meet and sustain the 0.7% target. Unfortunately, because of outdated Standing Orders, we were unable to table the Bill.

However, I disagree with Fine Gael on the timetable over which the 0.7% target could be achieved. The Labour Party believes that the deadline of 2007 is much too far away. With the resources available, political will and the co-operation of international agencies and Irish NGOs, there is no reason the target could not be met by the year 2003, and we have tabled an amendment to that effect.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael D. Higgins, if the House so agrees.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ireland trades on its history as a post-colonial country when it addresses the Third World. In the EU, Ireland was insistent in its demands that the richer countries at the centre should help those on the periphery. We benefited enormously from this and there is now an obligation on us to assist others in overcoming difficulties far more severe than those ever faced by this State.

Overseas development aid makes a difference. Some progress has been made over the past 25 years, although poverty remains at appalling levels, with some 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar per day. Despite a huge growth in population from 2.9 billion in 1970 to around 4.8 billion today,per capita growth in developing countries has been inching forward at the rate of around 1.3% per annum. Life expectancy, while still way below levels in the developed world, has risen by about four months each year since 1970. Some diseases like smallpox have been eliminated altogether.

The income gap between rich and poor continues to increase, however. In 1960, the income gap ratio between the fifth of the world's population living in the richest countries and the fifth living in the poorest countries was 30:1. In 1990, it was 60:1 and in 1997, 74:1. Millions of people still lack access to sanitation, water, health and education. As we have seen in Ethiopia, whole countries remain vulnerable to drought or to natural disasters.

Certainly, Ireland on its own cannot solve the problems of the developing world, but we can do far more than we are doing now. Setting a legislative target for the 0.7% figure would be a start and would be an example to all other countries.

The other related problem faced by developing countries which must be addressed by the developed world is the issue of debt. We need a generous attitude and a long-term perspective towards the debt problems in the developing world. Unless the crushing burden of debt service is lifted, many of the poorest countries will remain excluded from the benefits that flow from an increasingly integrated world economy. Their continued inability to offer their people the health and lifestyles that are taken for granted elsewhere will be impossible to sustain.

Facilitating the revitalisation of the economies in these underdeveloped countries, partially through debt elimination, will in any case confer great benefits on the world economy. There is a broad public consensus that the Third World debt burden is unsustainable, unrepayable and perverse in its social impact. Debt burdens of this magnitude impact disastrously on growth, human development and the social structures of the developing countries. Only two among the world's 41 most highly indebted developing nations achieved the somewhat modest target of 2%per capita GDP growth since 1980. Moreover, the situation is getting worse, not better. Since 1980 the debt burden of the world's poorest countries has more than tripled. Two thirds of that increase is the direct result of arrears of interest or principal on missed payment deadlines or earlier debt.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will hold their spring meeting this weekend. I urge the Government to ensure that our representatives at the meeting press strongly for the full cancellation of Third World debt.

Deputy De Rossa, there are seven minutes remaining this evening and there will be ten minutes remaining tomorrow evening.

Yes. I wish to conclude at this point and give the floor to Deputy Higgins. I urge the Government to take a strong stance in favour of full and complete Third World debt cancellation. I recognise that we are not a debtor nation and are not owed money by these developing countries. Accepting our motion which proposes to legally enforce the idea of reaching the UN development aid target of 0.7% of GNP within a specified period would strengthen our hand in making that case at international level.

Like Deputy De Rossa, I congratulate the Fine Gael Party, particularly Deputy Gay Mitchell who tabled the motion. I urge support for our proposal to make the 0.7% target achievable within a shorter period. It is many years since we first discussed overseas development aid and achieving the UN target figure. We need to recognise, however, that at the rate we are going and with the best will in the world, despite the very thorough speech from the Minister, all the indications are that matters will be very much worse. The evidence is available to anybody who wants to take note of it, that matters are deteriorating in the Third World, particularly in Africa.

In his speech the Minister referred to the major report by the UN Secretary General. In addition, the 1996 UNDP report on human development showed that as regards the three great hinges that link the developing world with the western world – aid, trade and debt – things have deteriorated enormously. As regards trade, the so-called developing countries had about $5 trillion out of $23 trillion of global gross domestic product.

In the last 30 years, the poorest 20% have seen their income share fall from 2.3% to 1.4%. On the other hand, the richest 20% have seen their incomes rise from 70% to 85% of total income. One of the most interesting figures that is quoted is that the personal wealth of the 350 billionaires currently noted in the world exceeds the total income of countries with 45% of the world's population.

In 1991, 85% of the world's population received 15% of the world's income. No matter what way one calculates it, one can see that nothing has changed structurally that will help those who rely on primary products to get a greater share of trade.

Third World debt has become catastrophic to the point at which it now becomes moral to seek cancellation as the only way forward. It is important that we should not deflect from structural aid every time we have a disaster. The net additionality of emergency aid has to be established so that structural aid allocations are not drawn upon to meet more immediate needs. One wants to meet such needs but the additionality has to become manifest.

Matters are getting worse in the Third World, yet I notice a certain weariness among some sections of the public, particularly with regard to Africa. People point out that it is an inhibiting factor in aid that the structure of civil society is not strong. To make that statement also puts the burden of history on people who must answer the question as to what was the burden carried by the colonisation of Africa, a continent that was literally raped.

I said that matters would be a great deal worse if things proceeded as they are, but globalisation is already making matters much worse. The enormous speed of capital is creating societies that have become economies. They in turn have become markets and have been narrowed down to financial markets or flows. That is crude shorthand but it describes what is happening. They have had the benefit of a total reconstruction in time and space which, when one compares it with the movement of human populations into towns and cities, has created an enormous problem on continents such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. Globalisation, uncriticised by those who are benefiting from it, is creating a massive distortion of speculative growth. In the US, 7% of the population have the experience of homelessness at some stage of their lives. There has been a growth in all inequalities in some of the beneficiary countries. More importantly, we are visiting upon the other countries we are addressing an appalling model of development that condemns them to poverty.

There are more phone connections, for example, in Manhattan than there are in sub-Saharan Africa. To suggest that the telecommunications revolution and globalisation will not affect what we are addressing is to be naive. It will make matters worse and that is what gives urgency to this motion and to the amendment. We should respond adequately.

Debate adjourned.