92 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the Irish aid effort to Asia following the tsunami disaster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2808/05]
Vol. 596 No. 4
92 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the Irish aid effort to Asia following the tsunami disaster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2808/05]
98 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his contacts with other heads of Government regarding the humanitarian crisis following the tsunami in south east Asia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34314/04]
112 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken to ensure that moneys pledged by the international community to assist countries affected by the Asia tsunami will be collected and used in the humanitarian effort; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2639/05]
125 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has been in touch with the heads of Government of those countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, which suffered such serious devastation arising from the recent tsunami disaster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34312/04]
133 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had made contact with other EU Heads of Government with a view to better coordination of the relief effort arising from the recent tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34311/04]
138 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he intends to increase the amount pledged by the Government in humanitarian assistance to the countries affected by the Asia tsunami; if further Government aid will be taken directly from the emergency relief fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2621/05]
141 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount that has been dispersed by the Government to aid agencies working in response to the Asia tsunami; the agencies that have received moneys; the broad uses that these moneys have been put to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2620/05]
142 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount which has been pledged by the Government to date to assist relief efforts in the aftermath of the tsunami in south Asia; the way in which this money will be spent; the countries in which Irish aid will be directed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2773/05]
144 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the humanitarian situation in Thailand, in view of the recent devastating tsunami; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2649/05]
158 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the humanitarian situation in India, in regions affected by the recent devastating tsunami; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2650/05]
177 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, in view of the recent devastating tsunami; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2619/05]
183 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the humanitarian situation in Indonesia, in view of the recent devastating tsunami; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2648/05]
193 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made representations to the Indonesian Government concerning the dispersal of aid to all areas of Indonesia affected by the tsunami disaster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2809/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 92, 98, 112, 125, 133, 138, 141, 142, 144, 158, 177, 183 and 193 together.
I refer to my earlier response to Question No. 88.
These are oral questions——
I think the Deputy said he refers to an earlier response.
That is correct.
What does it mean for Deputies who were not present?
I am referring to my earlier response to Question No. 88 when the Deputy was not in the Chamber. I will be pleased to answer any supplementary questions the Deputy may ask. If the Deputy would like me to repeat the reply, I will be pleased to do so.
In light of the Irish aid effort in Asia, the Minister of State now appears to have altered his opinion about the Irish aid agencies. He was critical of the way they managed their affairs and the fact that there is too much bureaucracy. The Minister of State can clarify his remarks. However, I heard him on "Morning Ireland"——
The Deputy should confine himself to a question.
This is the question. In light of the great work being done by Irish aid agencies to help alleviate the suffering of the tsunami victims, has the Minister of State now changed his opinion and does he agree they do fantastic work and should not be criticised in the way he criticised them?
I disagree with almost everything the Deputy has said. I have never changed nor will change my opinion of or my attitude to the non-governmental organisations which work in partnership with Development Cooperation Ireland, the section of the Department of Foreign Affairs which I head up as Minister of State. I have always had a very strong, positive view of the non-governmental organisations which we fund and support through the Department. I may have made comments which caused great offence to the Deputy opposite, but not to the NGOs themselves, many of whom I have met since and with whom I have deep, involved discussions on our commitments on the aid target of 0.7% of gross national product and our response to the tsunami crisis.
I have not changed my opinion and the issue I raised in a radio interview was one of advocacy and its role. That is a question almost everyone would raise at various stages. It was not raised with the specific intention or purpose of being critical of any non-governmental organisation. It was merely a comment on what the public might feel about issues of advocacy and administration. That remains a major concern for the public not only with regard to general Government support but also to our response to the tsunami crisis. When they give money, the public expect value for money in return. They expect that the money given to relieve the tsunami crisis should go to the target of the initial charitable instinct which prompted the donation in the first place.
Are they getting value for money?
That is a justified concern which people should have about money, which is why we have appointed Mr. Chris Flood as an envoy to the region to ensure that the public are and will be satisfied that the money pledged and donated goes to the intended target.
No amount of slippery talk or polished words will mask the fact that the Minister of State upset the NGOs when he implied that they could not effectively spend the money they were getting so that they would therefore get only what they could prove they could spend. That was the message that came from the Minister of State.
The Deputy did not read what I said.
I read it and listened to it.
The Deputy is bluffing again.
Having welcomed the appointment of Chris Flood, has the Minister considered the situation whereby the EU sends observers to elections to ensure they are democratically run, and will he therefore consult his EU partners on the possibility of sending observers to ensure that moneys raised by the generosity not only of the Irish people but of people throughout the European Union are targeted effectively to the areas most in need? The purpose would be not merely to meet the fire-brigade situation there but to develop long-term programmes to help people out of the long-term poverty trap they are in.
The Deputy's latter point is well made. The Minister has asked his European colleagues to follow our example and appoint to the region, at national level, their own special envoys. I am delighted to note that the UN has followed our example in appointing Bill Clinton as a special envoy. At EU level the Commission has given a commitment that it will monitor the efficacy of what is donated, pledged and spent, but on a separate level this issue was raised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the meeting of Foreign Ministers, which was the first official European response to the tsunami crisis. It was an Irish position from day one, enunciated by the Minister, which led to the wider European adoption of the idea. It was an Irish initiative and we were thanked for that. It was not as if the UN and other agencies were afraid of being monitored or having their work second-guessed. The initiative was greatly welcomed.
I also met Mr. Richard Manning in Paris. He is the chairman of the development assistance committee of the OECD and we got agreement from him at OECD level that he keep in contact with Jan Egeland of the UN to ensure that the moneys and pledges are tracked right through to becoming full, proper allocations and donations to the countries involved. The generosity of the response has been matched by an interesting and parallel concern among people and governments giving money both to NGOs and others. That concern in parallel with the sympathy, solidarity and support has taken the form of a consensus that whatever money is collected should go to the needy and that there should be no wastage or misallocation.
Were Questions Nos. 115 and 135 on the list for this reply?
They are to be responded to later.
I might then use this time to allow the Minister for State to complete his reply to me with regard to the arrangements for the Finance Bill to deal with the second €10 million promised by the Government from the humanitarian assistance fund. He might outline the arrangements. If the money is removed from the fund, will the arrangements be published before the publication of the Finance Bill or will the allocation be handled by way of a separate Vote? That might be covered in the combined reply to the questions before us.
I would like to answer that question which I hoped to answer earlier.
I will return to it as I have other questions.
The simple answer to the Deputy's earlier question is that there will not be a provision in the Estimates for the topping up or replenishment of the moneys which will be expended from the emergency fund. By definition that fund is an emergency fund. There will be no effort to replenish it until it is exhausted, but if we find ourselves in a situation in the middle to the end of the year whereby the emergency fund is spent, the Government will have to introduce a supplementary Estimate to replenish the fund should other humanitarian crises or disasters arise.
We will not argue as to whether the money involved is genuinely additional or represents the depletion of a contingency fund, which is in fact the case.
I must correct that in case the Deputy creates the wrong impression in the House.
The contingency fund was intended to cover disasters.
The Government has made a clear pledge that the emergency fund is designed to be used for precisely this kind of emergency. It is impossible to predict whether emergencies will occur but the Government commitment is clear. If there is a difficulty towards the middle or end of this year in regard to other unforeseen disasters, whether they be famine, flood, fire or whatever, we will replenish the fund to meet the obvious demands and needs of a further crisis or disaster.
I have a further question since the Minister of State has raised the issue of an emergency. I agree with some international observers in this field on the definition of an emergency. If one considers the Government commitment of €2 million, then the increase to €10 million and the final increase to €20 million, was the emergency not obvious at the time of the €2 million donation? Why were the additional funds not committed among the international community until different people had visited? Does that argue against the principle that once an emergency presents itself it should be recognised as such?
Will the Minister of State address the various questions involved? He raised the issue of advocacy. Does he agree that the issue of advocacy enables poor people to tell their stories, for example, or draw attention to the absence of democracy? That arises crucially in the case of Burma, for example. How would an NGO be doing wrong by encouraging people to demand democracy in Burma-Myanmar so that the number of dead could be counted? If one were to compare that kind of advocacy with the recognition by the Irish Government of the Burmese military regime, which would be the most likely to enable the people of Burma to tell the full story of the dead and the displaced? The Minister of State might reflect on that.
When the Minister was in discussion in particular with his Scandinavian colleagues, who suffered great losses in the tsunami disaster, did the Irish Government seriously consider the establishment of a disaster logistics core either on its own or in co-operation with other members of the European Union?
That is a very pertinent question and it arose at the meeting of Foreign Ministers attended by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and me in Brussels. The issue of enhancing the EU's civil logistics response capability is actively under consideration. It is being pursued as we speak at European level. In effect, we are trying to ramp up our capability and ensure that Europe can respond in a timely and efficient fashion to future disasters, even though they may be unforeseen. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has met several Scandinavian colleagues on that topic and others, as he said in the House. I will reflect on the Deputy's ideas and notions of advocacy, which are worth considering. The Minister wrote specifically to the Burmese authorities regarding allowing non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and similar organisations to enter the country to assist. In that sense, we have covered that.
I am not quite clear what the Deputy was trying to say regarding the amount pledged to the emergency appeal. It is fair to say that, as the disaster unfolded following St. Stephen's Day, expectations regarding the death toll changed daily. In other words, the initial allocation of €1 million was given in the immediate response as the first reports were coming in. I remind the House that when officials contacted me and we spoke of the unfolding emergency, the projected death toll in the first 24 hours after the disaster was approximately 6,000 to 8,000. As we all know, within a matter of days, that figure had risen dramatically, leading to a doubling of our assistance to €2 million.
Before New Year's Eve, there were discussions between me, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, the Taoiseach and officials from his Department with regard to further and increased levels of support in the light of the rising death toll. As the Deputy is aware, €10 million in assistance was announced that day. Thereafter, we had a very significant meeting, which the Taoiseach and the Minister attended, with leading Irish NGOs involved in emergency assistance and work. Out of that meeting and the earlier Cabinet meeting, the decision was taken that the Minister should travel to the region to see the devastation at first hand. During that visit, the Minister announced — rightly, in my view — a further €10 million in assistance, bringing our total to €20 million.
In fairness, Deputy Michael Higgins will accept, as the Seanad spokesmen of his party and Fine Gael did this morning during an exchange of statements on the tsunami and as, I believe, everyone does on a cross-party basis, that the Government's response was speedy and generous. That was reflected by members of all the parties represented in the Seanad. Perhaps Deputy Michael Higgins will also take that on board.
It is a strange day. Earlier I praised the European Council, and now I will praise the British Government. Will the Minister consider the British Government's policy of agreeing to match the generosity of its public with the equivalent in Government aid? If Ireland were to do likewise, the Government would be donating €50 million rather than the miserly €20 million that it has so far committed. The British Government's position is good and should be adopted by our own. Does the Minister agree that it would be popular and right? Is there an ongoing review of the commitments that the Government has given to relief aid, and will the Minister ensure that the British Government's policy of matching public funds to private generosity and donations is included? In that way, we could see an increase in the amount that this Government of the fourth wealthiest nation in the world is giving towards the humanitarian aid required.
I hate to be hard on this, but the Deputy has stated virtually nothing with which I could agree. I admire his ability to agree with the British Government for a change. It is marvellous to see, and perhaps we will see more of the same in coming weeks and months on other issues. He may see things as it does regarding criminality too. It is astounding to hear someone describe the Irish Government's contribution as miserly, but it does not surprise me from this source. On a per capita basis, Ireland was one of the most generous countries on earth in its response, financial and otherwise, to the crisis. Those are the facts.
We are one of the richest countries in Europe.
The Deputy, in his desire to be negative and oppositional in this House, may be on his own. Virtually every other party in the Seanad and in this House has acknowledged that the Irish response, at Government and non-governmental level, has been extraordinarily generous.
For the Deputy's benefit, I would like to quote someone who is very highly regarded in the development community worldwide, Mr. Jim Wolfensohn, who was president of the World Bank, which has not been raided for a long time. Mr. Wolfensohn is a highly respected figure who has refocused the World Bank over the last ten or 20 years in a pro-development sense. He said on "Morning Ireland" that he was deeply impressed by what Ireland had done, stating that, quite apart from the Government contribution of €20 million, the public had come up with €50 million and that €70 million from a country of 4 million people was quite remarkable. He said that he had been able to tell the Taoiseach what an example Ireland was and talk to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State with responsibility for development, since their country had shown tremendous capacity and heart, and the Irish people were to be congratulated on their approach to development. That is what one of the leading development figures globally said about our contribution.
Then increase the figure.
I have no intention of adding further to my answer other to say that the Deputy's contribution is miserly in the extreme and in sharp contrast to the attitude adopted by the responsible Opposition parties, namely, Fine Gael and Labour. It is cheap beyond belief but somehow does not surprise me.
93 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his meeting with aid agencies to discuss the spending of the Government’s donation to the Asian tsunami disaster relief efforts. [1468/05]
94 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his meeting with representatives of the overseas development aid agencies on 4 January 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34313/04]
135 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent visit to the tsunami-affected countries in south-east Asia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2657/05]
163 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent visit to south Asia in the aftermath of the tsunami; the groups and organisations he met during his visit; if he observed the manner in which Irish aid is being spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2775/05]
236 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent visit to the tsunami-affected countries in south-east Asia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2906/05]
239 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his meeting with aid agencies on 4 January 2005 to discuss the aftermath of the tsunami in Asia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34617/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 93, 94, 135, 163, 236 and 239 together.
On 4 January, the Taoiseach and I met several aid agencies to discuss the tsunami disaster in south Asia. The meeting provided a valuable opportunity for an exchange of views on the situation in the region and the best way to proceed to ensure maximum effectiveness of Irish assistance. The importance of co-ordination was emphasised, along with the central role of the United Nations in this regard. The requirement to ensure that our assistance complements local efforts and builds local capacity was also emphasised. We also agreed that international pledges of assistance must be honoured in the region. This is a matter which I have followed up at EU level at the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers earlier this week as well as on 7 January. At that meeting, the Council adopted a plan of action designed to improve the EU's response to the tsunami and similar crises.
Shortly after the meeting with the aid agencies, I travelled to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia with the chief executives of Concern, GOAL, Trócaire and the Red Cross to view the situation at first hand. I witnessed the truly appalling scale of the disaster. The loss of life and destruction of property are almost beyond words. The acute emergency phase of operations is ending in most areas and we are now moving into the recovery and reconstruction phase, which will take years.
During the visit I met humanitarian workers from NGOs and other agencies, all of whom shared the immediate objective of meeting the needs of the injured, the displaced and the bereaved. I also witnessed the enormous efforts of local people, communities and national organisations working to re-establish basic services and seeking to return to some sort of normality. I pay tribute to them all and the selfless way that they have gone about their enormous tasks.
I also met several senior Ministers in the affected countries, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, the Minister of the Interior of Thailand and the Minister for People's Welfare of Indonesia, to discuss the challenges that they face during the recovery and reconstruction phase and how Ireland can best assist. In my discussions, I emphasised the importance of facilitating the work of NGOs and international aid organisations without any hindrance. In line with the best-practice principles of good humanitarian donorship to which Ireland fully subscribes, aid should be delivered in an impartial, independent and neutral manner to all affected populations on the basis of need.
The technical team sent to the region to carry out a rapid assessment has presented its preliminary findings and these are being studied with a view to guiding Ireland's medium-term strategy in the region. Deputies will also be aware that the Government has appointed an envoy, Mr. Chris Flood, who will monitor Ireland's assistance to the region.
Does the Minister agree, from his discussion with the aid agencies, that we are getting value for money? The implication from his colleague was that the aid agencies had to be watched. I listened carefully to the Minister of State's reply. Will the Minister state categorically that we are getting value for money from the aid agencies, that they are doing fantastic work and that they should not be criticised for investing money in advocacy? I would like the Minister, as the senior Minister, to clarify that.
Will the Minister agree also that what we are seeing with this disaster is a foretaste of what we will see when global warming becomes a serious reality on this planet and flooding occurs, as is predicted, throughout the world, particularly in low-lying areas like the Maldives, which were affected by the tsunami? The Minister said we cannot know where emergencies will happen but we do know that they will happen with global warming. Will the Minister agree that we, and foreign ministers throughout the world, must prepare for that eventuality?
On the issue of value for money, €540 million of taxpayers' money will be spent this year in various regions, but particularly in Africa. There are mechanisms in place to ensure value for money and accountability. I did not take from what my colleague said that he was in any way critical of the NGOs. In all my discussions with the NGOs, particularly the intensive discussions I had with the chief executives of the major NGOs during my visit to the tsunami region, they were acutely aware of the problem. One of them, John O'Shea of GOAL, frequently says that the percentage issue is not the real issue. He is not particularly concerned with the percentage issue. He constantly refers to the fact that we have to ensure there is strict accountability and that the money gets to the people who deserve it. I totally agree with him in that respect. All the other NGOs are of that view also and they welcome the initiative we have taken in appointing Mr. Chris Flood to oversee this area. That is not to say he will be examining the accountability issue. His role will be to ensure that if logistical difficulties arise on the ground for NGOs working for the organisations we help to fund and are reported to us, we in turn will be able to raise those issues with either the national or local authorities.
What about global warming?
That is not an issue to be discussed here.
Where else would we discuss it?
My Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, attended a significant conference on the impact of environmental issues on humanitarian situations. He was criticised to a certain extent for attending that conference but it was right for him to attend it because we are part of the group sponsoring the examination of and research into the effect of environmental issues on a deterioration in humanitarian situations, particularly in low-lying areas of the world.
I repeat my request for information on who is handling the relationship with Somalia. My own reading on it is that there is an interim Government in place but there has been very little news from Somalia regarding the number of deaths, destruction or whatever. In so far as it is not represented strongly at the inter-state relationships, it would be a further punishment since the Somalian famine if, in turn, it was not assisted in the same way as others.
It would be very useful if, in the coming weeks, we got an idea of what has been pledged internationally by way of aid post-tsunami in terms of loans and grants. Many of the international pledges have been loans rather than grants and some of the aid promised is tied to significant conditions. Equally, regarding the debt release that has been promised for the five countries affected, it is not clear whether that is full cancellation or deferral. On first reading it would appear to be deferment and one has to ask about the implications of that for Africa.
I put it to the Minister, Deputy Ahern, that the use of the gross figure is something that has enabled the United States, for example, to claim that in respect of overseas development aid it is the largest gross player but it masks the fact that the figure is at 0.12% in terms of proportion of gross income and it is at the bottom of the table in respect of international commitment to ODA. The target set in the United States in the post-tsunami situation would reveal the same thing when population is taken into account. We should pay tribute to the Irish response but also warn against the use of gross figures. If John O'Shea is not concerned, I am. The percentage figure is a true figure because it relates to the contribution, per capita and per citizen, to overseas development aid.
The Deputy is somewhat critical of the American response. I can only say from what I saw on the ground, and in Banda Aceh in particular, the people doing the most work was the American military.
I accept that.
If they had not been there, the people of that area would have been in much greater difficulty.
I accept that. It is on the calculation.
We have to make a statement and be fair to nations when they contribute. I do not want to be critical of other people who were there but from what I and the people who were with me saw, and in Sri Lanka also, the Americans were magnificent.
Regarding the percentage target, we are fully committed to that and believe other nations should reach the percentage target also. I reiterate what my colleague said. We are wedded to the 0.7% target. Over the lifetime of this Government we hope to be at 0.5%. We want to sit down with the aid agencies, and I had discussions and close contact with them when I visited the regions affected by the tsunami with them. I want to agree, in partnership with them, realistic timetables because even they accept that, given the growth rates this country has seen since the promise was originally made, it was virtually impossible for us to reach that target within the timeframe. Even they admit that.
They have changed their tune in the past three weeks.
They have agreed that they will work in partnership with the Government and in consultation with other NGOs and the general public who would have a view on this to put in place a realistic timetable——
They have changed their attitude since Christmas if that is the case.
——which people know may or may not be reached depending on the growth rates that are possible.
That is a new condition.
I assure the Deputy that it is a commitment of this Government to reach the 0.7% target.
Is the Minister telling me that the NGOs are accepting the Government's failure to reach this target because if he is, there has been a major shift in attitude on the part of the NGOs since early December? Will the Minister clarify that? Is he now saying that the Government's reneging on its promise made at the United Nations is acceptable to them? Have they changed their attitude since mid-December when, both in committee and publicly, they were critical of the Government reneging on its commitments made at the United Nations and in other fora?
John O'Shea continually states that the percentage is not important and that the overall amount and how it is spent is vital.
He is alone in that regard.
In light of the growth rates the country enjoyed in recent years, it has been acknowledged that we are chasing a target,0.7%, which keeps moving away. It is accepted that we should work in partnership to put in place a realistic timetable we know we can achieve. It is important that we reach whatever target we set and maintain it forever and a day.
"Forever and a day" is the important phrase.
The Deputy should examine his record when he was in government. He made commitments and did not comply with any of them.
The Minister should be careful about the statements he has issued. They are simply not accurate.
We are not interested in history, Minister.
We have the record.
I wish to pose three simple questions which are related to the last questions, in respect of which I did not receive many answers. Is there an ongoing or planned review of the amount pledged by the Government with a view to increasing that amount? Has the Government capped the amount to be donated to the relief fund? Was consideration given to matching public generosity with Exchequer funds?
In terms of the previous question, Deputy Michael Higgins referred to some other countries which do not, in reality, match the pledges they make.
I was referring to the relief fund, not ODA.
I accept that and I am referring to the relief fund. It has been proven, in respect of previous disasters, that countries pledge certain amounts in the initial phases of responses to disasters but when the position is examined following a couple of years it emerges that these pledges are not all honoured. There was one disaster — I do not recall which — when only one third of pledges were fulfilled.
Ireland's position, regardless of the nature of the Government in office, has always been that if it makes a pledge, it fulfils it. Unlike some other major countries, we do not link our ODA to trade. Unfortunately, some of these countries link it to the trade in which they are involved with affected nations.
The money has not been capped. However, a number of the aid agencies have already closed their appeals in respect of the tsunami because they are aware that the amount of aid pledged worldwide is four times as much as that pledged for any previous disaster. They make the point that we cannot remove our focus from, in particular, the continent of Africa and we have no intention of doing so. That is why most, approximately 85%, of the €540 million allocated by the Government on behalf of the Irish people will be spent in Africa next year.
Some interesting suggestions emerged from several Heads of State at Davos about how to deal with global poverty. One of these, put forward by President Chirac, involves a tax on aviation fuel. Has the Government considered this proposal and would it lend its support to it?
There was a small amount of discussion about that matter at EU level. However, I am of the opinion that it is not a runner. Most of the larger countries were opposed to it and did not believe it would be able to facilitate an immediate response to this type of situation. I cannot see this suggestion being a runner, particularly in light of the diversity of issues that would arise not only from country to country but also continent to continent.
So it will not fly.
95 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timescale within which the new EU constitution will be put to referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2622/05]
169 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans for the ratification procedure for the EU constitution in the various member states; the implications of any member state of the EU failing to ratify the constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2813/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 169 together.
To enter into force, the European constitution must be ratified by all member states of the European Union in accordance with their own constitutional requirements. The constitution sets a target date of 1 November 2006 for the completion of this process. Two member states, Lithuania and Hungary, have already completed their ratification procedures and the Slovenian Parliament approved the constitution yesterday.
Referenda are either certain or highly likely in ten member states, including Ireland. Spain will be the first member state to hold a referendum and will do so on 20 February. While definitive dates for the other referenda have not yet been set, it appears they will take place at different times between the late spring or early summer of this year and the summer of next year. No decision has yet been taken on the timing of a referendum in Ireland, although it will be held in good time to allow for the completion of the ratification process by the target date. The necessary legal preparatory work is under way.
Should one or more member states fail to ratify the European constitution, it cannot legally enter into force. The Union would clearly enter into a period of major political difficulty and uncertainty but there is no point in speculating about how the situation would then unfold. A declaration by the Intergovernmental Conference, which negotiated the constitution, simply provides that if, two years after signature, four fifths of the member states have ratified and one or more have encountered difficulties, the matter will be referred to the European Council.
When will the legislation relating to the referendum be introduced? Does the Minister expect that the referendum will be held in the autumn? Is he concerned about the recent Eurobarometer findings that 45% of Irish people have not even heard of the European constitution? As regards our awareness of the constitution, we are, in football parlance, in the relegation zone, coming 22nd out of 25 in the order of ignorance. Does the Minister agree that the level of ignorance about the European constitution is dangerous and that there is a possibility that there could be a rerun of the previous catastrophe? What action does he intend to take in respect of this matter?
A decision has not been taken on when the referendum will be held. As stated earlier in respect of the discussion at the European Council meeting in December, when I leave the House I will attend a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee aimed at progressing the issue of the wording and dealing with the legal implications etc. involved with holding the referendum. I assure the Deputy that, following the publication of the legislation, the Referendum Commission will be granted ample time in which to encourage a good public debate on this issue. In light of the previous efforts of the commission when provided with such time, the low awareness figures to which the Deputy referred will be turned around quickly.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.