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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 6

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Passport Services

John Brady


72. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the current situation in respect of passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23370/22]

There is currently a great demand for passports, which is no surprise given the two years of Covid, during which people were not able to travel. Getting a passport in time is a huge problem. On top of that, Brexit has resulted in increased demand for Irish passports among Irish citizens, particularly in the North. This is causing huge problems and a huge backlog and, therefore, I ask the Minister to give an update and outline what exactly is happening in the Passport Service.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue because it is a major one for many people.

My Department has made an unprecedented investment in the passport service by way of additional staff and improvements to the passport and customer service systems. The passport service is proactively managing the current demand for passports and has put in place resources and structures to address the estimated significant increase in demand for passports in 2022 in this essential citizen service.

More than 400,000 passports have been issued to date in 2022. In the same period in 2019, which saw the highest peak before this year, 355,000 passports were issued. More strikingly, in the busiest month in 2019 some 105,000 applications were received compared with 157,000 in February of this year. A total of 117,000 passports were issued in April alone, with 45% of adult renewal passports being issued within one to two working days.

It is stated there are currently 183,000 applications in the passport service system but I believe it is now closer to 190,000. I checked just before I came in. While there is a very high volume of applications in the system, this does not represent a backlog. These applications are all being processed in the usual way, with a continuous stream of new applications and a continuous dispatch of completed passports happening every day.

I understand that as we approach the summer months, people will be thinking about going on holidays and renewing their passports. While I strongly urge everyone to apply for a passport in plenty of time, the urgent-appointment service is available for customers who wish to renew their passports at short notice. Customers availing of this service can renew a passport within one to four days in Dublin and within four days in Cork. Almost 5,000 customers have availed of this service since January of this year.

It is a priority for the passport service to improve processing times in 2022, particularly for first-time applicants, for whom I know there has been an issue. The passport service is implementing several further measures that will positively affect current turnaround times and further improve customer service, including working targeted overtime to focus on key areas such as first-time applications, intensive training of staff and enhanced public information resources. I am confident that the measures implemented will continue to help to reduce passport turnaround times in 2022.

There are serious problems, particularly for first-time applicants, as the Minister acknowledged, but also those seeking children's passports. There are massive delays. I am working with a family whose story, I am sure, could be shared by every Deputy.

The family, who want to go away this weekend, are still waiting on their children's passports. The estimated time for the passports to be issued is not until later in the month, even though they applied well in time. Unfortunately, many families have had to cancel holidays up to this point. The fear is that unless measures are taken now, this will be replicated as we get closer to the summer period.

Yesterday alone, my office dealt with ten passport applications where the applications exceeded the target issue date. That was just one day, and I am sure that is replicated across the board. What percentage of applications at this point are exceeding the target date by which people have been told passports would be issued?

Regarding turnaround times, the processing time for first-time applications reduced from 40 days to 30 days this year, a 25% reduction in processing times. That is the position as of 19 April. A new system for managing additional documentation is also in place, because the Deputy asked for it in the House. The clock does not start again when people correct their paperwork when there is a problem. Instead, we now have a prioritised completion time within 15 working days when documents are corrected, rather than starting a long process again.

In terms of staffing and accommodation, 162 new staff have joined the passport service since 1 January. There have been over 300 new staff since June of last year. The passport service is currently running a recruitment competition for temporary clerical officers, TCOs. When completed, there will be more than 900 staff in the passport service, a doubling of where we were last summer when we had about 460 staff. A new site in Swords opened in November last year that accommodates 140 staff. Balbriggan's expansion work began in January 2022 and will accommodate another 175 staff.

We are pumping huge resources in terms of human resources and increased space into a service we know will be under significant pressure this year. We are expecting approximately 1.4 million passport applications. We thought the figure might be a little bit higher at the start of the year, but we think it will be around that now. As I said, in comparison to last summer we have doubled the number of people in passport offices. There are still issues and we are trying to address them, but we are delivering thousands of passports every single day. The vast majority of applications run smoothly and we compare very well to other countries but there are, every now and again, glitches with and delays in the system and when that happens a lot of people talk to Deputies' offices, which is what we have seen this week.

I thank the Minister. He might be able to state what percentage of passport applications have exceeded the target issue date. He referred to glitches. Yesterday, the phone lines were down. They were down again today. There is a serious problem with the web chat function. I have spoken to people who have, for the past three weeks, tried to talk to people via web chat on a daily basis but cannot get hold of anyone. It is a serious problem. People cannot get clarity. As a last resort, they come to Deputies and ask us to try to make representations to get clarity in the first instance as to the current status of a passport application and whether can be sped up. There are clearly issues.

The Minister mentioned a number of offices. I have received information that there are serious problems in terms of staffing in the Cork passport office. The Minister might provide some statistics on whether there are staffing issues in there, and whether it is fully staffed or there are serious issues.

There are serious problems with passport applications from citizens in the North. There are significant delays. The Minister will be well aware that for the first time, applications for Irish passports have exceeded those for British passports. There are still problems in terms of people getting passports on time and getting clarity on the current status of an application. Even elected public representatives in the North cannot make representations on behalf of applicants. Many areas need to be tightened up to ensure that people do not have to cancel holidays which, unfortunately, is happening at this point.

I would not claim we have a perfect system. We do not. We are improving it all of the time. We are significantly upgrading the software this year, so we will have, in effect a new IT system running our passport system from next year, which will give us a lot more flexibility. It is not a perfect system but we are putting extraordinary resources into ensuring that we have turnaround times that compare very favourably internationally.

I would like to give the Deputy a sense of what other countries experience, countries that we would regard as being towards the top of the class in terms of the delivery of passports. In the UK, turnaround times are officially four to five weeks, but the UK's passport service published a guidance that currently states all applicants should allow ten weeks for processing all kind of applications. The US wait is eight to 11 weeks. In Australia there is a wait of six weeks. In Canada the wait is four weeks.

Can the Minister give me the percentages?

Some 45% of our passport renewals for adults are done within 48 hours. There is a lot that is good about our passport system, despite the fact that we are producing about double the number of passports each month this year compared to what we were producing up until three or four years ago. A total of 4,000 to 5,000 passports a day are going out to people. There are individual cases where there are problems or difficulties with paperwork and we have glitches in the system, which happened this week and impacted on the phone lines. We are addressing that. It is not a perfect system, but there will be 900 people in passport offices in three different locations this summer to deal with volumes of passports that we have never seen before. The vast majority of passports will be very smooth in terms of delivery.

United Nations

Peadar Tóibín


73. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the cost and expense of Ireland's United Nations Security Council membership broken down by expenditure in tabular form. [23346/22]

What has been achieved by Ireland in our UN Security Council membership? The question I tabled is about the cost of the project. It is an important and prestigious role. It is a role that obviously comes with significant responsibilities, as well as opportunities. I would like to know the costs of achieving that and what has been achieved in terms of our foreign affairs objectives internationally.

The question was about costs, so I will address that issue first and then come back to what we have achieved while we were there.

The costs incurred by Ireland during our campaign for a seat on the Security Council were approximately €860,000. This includes the event launch, promotional material and campaign-related travel and subsistence. These costs compare favourably with those of our competitors. Norway, for example, spent €2.8 million on its campaign. Canada, which we beat in that process, spent €1.5 million.  Estonia, which served on the Security Council from 2020 to 2021, spent €1.5 million on its campaign. 

Membership of the Security Council brings with it a significantly increased workload. The breadth and depth of the agenda has increased considerably since Ireland was last a member in 2001-02, and this requires a substantial contribution right across the Department. The additional workload is most notable at headquarters in Dublin and at our Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Ireland’s embassy network also plays a central role, engaging with Governments and reporting on their approach to Council agenda items. Staffing has been significantly increased in New York, in headquarters and in a number of embassies. A dedicated Security Council task team in Dublin leads in coordinating our approach to all Security Council and UN issues.

Our tenure has involved some additional expenditure, including on salaries, premises, travel, meetings and other events. In New York, eight additional diplomatic officers, three attachés from the Department of Defence and 13 locally hired staff are working on Security Council issues, and they also cover other duties. Additional staff have also been allocated to the political division and development co-operation and Africa division at headquarters, as well as to key embassies in Africa and the Middle East. The Department’s allocated budget for the costs of Ireland’s UN Security Council tenure is €4 million in 2021 and 2022. 

Travel costs include participation by New York-based staff in UN-sanctioned committee visits to countries subject to arms embargoes and targeted sanctions, as well as travel by headquarter-based staff to countries on the agenda on the Security Council and for consultations with other Security Council members, and some travel between Dublin and New York. These increased resources help to ensure that Ireland can participate fully as a member of the Security Council and that we are properly informed in order that we can be as impactful as possible. Resources are kept under regular review.

I thank the Minister for the detail in the reply. Am I correct that there are 80 additional diplomatic officers?

No. I did not give that figure.

My apologies. I am seeking to quantify the total number of extra personnel. The Minister may be able to assist me in that regard.

There is no doubt that the challenges faced by the Security Council and by Ireland are enormous. Ireland is a small country and we have to be realistic in respect of the impact it can make through the Security Council. In fairness, however, it is right that we start to analyse the impact we are making, given the extra cost entailed and the necessity for help. What progress has been made on some of our objectives, such as a mine-free world? The Minister made a commitment in that regard. What progress has been made on reducing nuclear weapons proliferation, or even on the issue of Ukraine? I note the Israeli and French leaders contacted Putin to see if they could influence his thinking in respect of driving towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. This Government seems to have a policy of outsourcing foreign policy towards the European Union in recent times. Is the State utilising the leverage it has in this position to its maximum effect?

I assure the Deputy that we do not have a policy of outsourcing at all. We are probably the most vocal small country on the planet when it comes to foreign policy. I challenge the Deputy to name a small country that is more vocal than Ireland is on many of the key issues at the moment. We are about to take over the chair of the Council of Europe for the next six months. We are on the Security Council and an extremely active member in the EU. We are vocal on almost all the UN panels and organisations. If the Deputy is seeking examples of where Ireland has made an impact, he can take that of Ethiopia. Effectively, Ireland was the penholder on that file on the Security Council, ensuring that others noticed the extraordinary events that were happening in Ethiopia last year in terms of violence and a civil war that was developing there. In respect of Afghanistan, we have been, and continue to be, extremely vocal on women, peace and security issues. We were extremely active in trying to assist many journalists to get out of Afghanistan and come to Ireland. We work directly on getting humanitarian assistance into north-west Syria. We are working with Norway on that and hold that file. Of course, we almost got the first ever resolution on climate and security agreed on the Security Council. We got a massive endorsement at the UN General Assembly, with 119 countries co-sponsoring that Irish resolution. To be clear, we are busy, active and impactful.

One of the obvious examples of Ireland deferring to European Union foreign policy relates to a decision in respect of the Russian ambassador. In other words, people were being told that collective decisions are the strongest decisions. When we have collective indecision, however, that is not strong in any way. It brings us nowhere. We have collective indecision in the European Union in that regard.

One of the main conversations in this country while Ireland has had this role in the UN is about whether Ireland should be giving arms to Ukraine. Fine Gael Deputies have used the time to debate how we should shed our neutrality instead of actually using the competency we built up as peace workers throughout the planet. The House has spent time on how we can move towards military blocks. It is important for me to recognise that there have been positives, and I do welcome them, but there is far more we can do in respect of Afghanistan, Yemen, China, Palestine and Myanmar. The Minister mentioned the issue of climate and security. I ask him to do more on that because climate change will be one of the biggest threats to security in future.

I need to be stricter on time. I have been fairly loose in that regard thus far. We will move on to Deputy Brady.

Ukraine War

John Brady


74. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the activities being undertaken by the Government on the United Nations Security Council and within the European Union in order to aid the Ukrainian people and help bring an end to the conflict in Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23371/22]

I ask the Minister to provide details of the actions being taken by the Government on the UN Security Council and within the EU in terms of providing assistance to Ukraine, given that we are coming close to three months since the illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine. What actions have been taken by Ireland to push for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to this brutal war?

Ireland has been a staunch and unwavering supporter of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. We are not, and should not be, neutral in this war. That does not mean that we are undermining traditional Irish neutrality. We are not doing so. We remain militarily non-aligned, but that does not mean Ireland does not take sides when a country is blatantly breaking international law and the UN Charter and brutalising another country, which is what is happening as we speak.

Nobody is arguing with that.

We should not be neutral on that issue.

On 19 April, I promised the Mayor of Bucha, Mr. Anatoliy Fedoruk, and the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dmytro Kuleba, that I would brief the UN Security Council on my visit to Ukraine. I was the first foreign minister of any country to visit Kiev. A number of prime ministers were there before me. I committed to highlighting Russia’s disregard for international humanitarian law. Ireland will continue to use our membership on the UN Security Council to hold Russia accountable for its actions, as we would hold any country breaching international law accountable for its actions.

On 4 May, the European Commission presented proposals for a sixth package of sanctions aimed at depriving Russia and Belarus of the ability to wage war on Ukraine. The package targets additional Russian and Belarusian banks, including Sberbank, Russia's largest bank. Three big Russian state-owned broadcasters responsible for Russian state propaganda will be sanctioned and will be unable to distribute their content in any form in the EU or attract advertising.  A complete import ban on all Russian oil is also proposed, to be introduced in an orderly and staged fashion.

Ireland has allocated €20 million in direct humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and neighbouring countries via the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies. Additionally, at EU level, Ireland has contributed €11.5 million to EU humanitarian assistance of €550 million.  On 5 May, the Taoiseach participated in a pledging conference that raised €6.15 billion in humanitarian and economic supports for Ukraine.

The EU is committed to providing support to the Ukrainian Government for its immediate needs and the reconstruction of a democratic Ukraine. To that end, EU leaders agreed to set up a Ukraine solidarity trust fund. The EU is thus far providing €1.5 billion in the European Peace Facility to support the Ukrainian armed forces.  Ireland is contributing its full share, at €33 million so far, that will go towards non-lethal weapons only.

I thank the Minister. I absolutely agree that Russia needs to be held to account for its brutal invasion and human rights violations, including the murder of innocent civilians in Bucha and other towns and cities across Ukraine. I welcome the moves for the International Criminal Court, ICC, to hold Russia to account. The heroism displayed by Ukrainian forces in the face of the brutal onslaught is an inspiration to the world. Ultimately, however, it is diplomacy that will bring a conclusion to this barbaric war. The international community has to be responsible and work tirelessly to develop a space that would allow both protagonists enter into meaningful talks to bring an end to this brutal war. What actions are being taken? There have been some failed attempts. It is probable that Russia was not being truthful in terms of engaging with Ukraine in the early days of the invasion. What actions and measures are being taken by Ireland on the Security Council and within the EU to push for that space and to allow that diplomacy to take place?

I agree with the tenor of the question. Of course, ultimately, this is about bringing the war to an end. Like every other country, we have to find ways of doing that. While that is proving impossible at the moment because the Kremlin does not want the war to end yet and, therefore, there is no basis for a possible ceasefire right now, that does not mean we should not keep trying. In the meantime, we have to put in place the strongest possible deterrents to the continuation of the war. That means very tough sanctions and helping the Ukrainians to defend themselves, as well as being as generous as we can from a humanitarian point of view to support Ukrainians who are fleeing to neighbouring countries or within Ukraine. We are involved in all of that. I assure the Deputy that my focus continues to be on exploring ways in which a ceasefire could be negotiated and agreed, and the conditions under which that would be possible.

We have to do so in a way that keeps Ukraine at the centre of all those discussions. It must be a case of nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

Thank you, Minister. We need to move on.

That is all the people of Ukraine ask and that is the approach we take. When I was in Kyiv, I spent at least an hour talking to two of the most senior negotiators for the Ukrainian President, who have negotiated and continue to negotiate with their Russian counterparts to explore those opportunities.

I agree that diplomacy is the only way. Ultimately, this war will be brought to an end because of the failure, as we have seen, of the Russian military, which was made out to be a great fighting force. Due to the heroism of the Ukrainian forces, it certainly is not having its own way. It is hard to see how and when Russia will meet its military aims. In the meantime, unfortunately, we are seeing civilians being butchered and cities being destroyed.

What role does the Minister see for a militarily non-aligned country such as Ireland in trying to push forward a peaceful solution? I absolutely agree that it is right and proper for us to call out what is an illegal invasion, but the fact is we are militarily non-aligned. There has to be a role for countries such as Ireland in developing a peaceful solution.

I welcome the Minister's visit to Kyiv. However, it is notable that we are one of a few countries that have not re-established its embassy there. Doing so would show solidarity with the Ukrainian people in these horrible times. Reopening our embassy would be a small but very meaningful way to show we extend our solidarity to them.

First, it is important for us not be naive in terms of our own potential influence. However, we will continue to offer Ireland as a country that wants to explore compromise and solutions. We will continue to keep talking, as is happening at Security Council level and elsewhere.

I plan to reopen our embassy in Kyiv. It is a step-by-step process because we have to manage the security consequences of doing so. It should not be forgotten that I opened the embassy only last August. That thriving European city has, unfortunately, changed so much since then. Our ambassador is super, very able and anxious to get back to Kyiv. I am anxious to reopen the embassy there and we will do so in a step-by-step process. We are already moving back to Warsaw in Poland as the first step in that direction. When we have the security issues assessed and resolved to my satisfaction, we will move to reopening the embassy in Kyiv. I hope to be able to do that as soon as is practically possible.

Passport Services

Michael Collins


75. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps that are being taken to ensure first-time passports are issued within a reasonable timeframe (details supplied). [23343/22]

We have a very serious situation in this country in regard to accessing passport services. I want to put forward a number of solutions and I hope the Minister will work with us to try to achieve them. The first must involve addressing the issue of staffing. I note that he said earlier that more staff have been taken on. In addition, passport offices must be fully reopened to the public. People could solve a lot of their issues at the desk. We also must look at post offices, where there is capacity to increase foot flow and where much more could be done in terms of passport services. This is very important at a time post offices such as that in Goleen are due to close in the next few weeks.

The Deputy must allow the Minister to reply.

We need more foot flow into post offices.

I thank the Deputy for his suggestions, which are very helpful. His question indicates he is primarily concerned with first-time passports, which is the process that is taking longer at the moment. Since March of this year, the passport service has reduced the processing time for first-time applications from 40 working days to 30. This 25% reduction in processing times is a direct result of the substantial level of investment my Department has made in the service.  It is important to note that the reduction in turnaround times for first-time applications took effect from 19 April. Only fully complete applications submitted on or after that date can be processed within 30 days.

First-time passport applications take longer to process than renewal applications and there are a number of reasons for this. First-time applications are necessarily complex to process, since, in many cases, they are applications for Irish citizenship. The passport service must validate the true identity of the applicant and take measures to confirm his or her entitlement to Irish citizenship. It is the statutory responsibility of the passport service to protect the integrity of the Irish passport. Accordingly, a rigorous analysis process is in place to verify the identity and citizenship status of first-time applicants. In the case of first-time passport applications for children, the consent of guardians must also be thoroughly validated. Due to the intensive analysis and extra measures undertaken by highly trained and experienced staff, first-time applications take 30 working days to process.

There are currently 88,000 first-time online applications in the system. Of these, 57% are complete and being processed by the Passport Office. The other 43% require additional action by the applicant or his or her parent. This means applicants need to submit required documentation such as a witnessed guardian consent form to progress the application.  I strongly urge anyone who is considering travelling overseas this year, particularly families with young children, to check the validity of their passports before booking travel and to apply for their passports in plenty of time.

My time is up but I will come back on the Deputy's suggestions.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, and I must compliment his Department. The staff have been very helpful to me in dealing with very difficult times for families in the past number of years.

What is being done to ensure first-time passports are issued within a reasonable timeframe? There are families who are given an estimated issue date and who book a holiday, perhaps for a week later, only to be told after the estimated issue date that there is a problem with the application. Surely such notice can be given at an earlier stage rather than at the final stage? I dealt with a family of five who were supposed to go on holiday last week, with the baby's passport to be issued on 5 May. The parents found out there was an issue on 6 May, which meant they had to leave the baby at home. It was okay for that family because there was somebody to look after the child but it is not an ideal situation. The staff in my office are pulling the hair out of their heads because, like the staff of every other politician, they are inundated with calls and are spending 45 minutes on the telephone waiting for a reply. It is not good enough in this day and age and it is creating serious issues that are taking a lot of time to resolve.

My Department deals with tens of thousands of telephone calls. So far this year, the figure is some 90,000. I may stand corrected on this but, from memory, that is the approximate number. We have also set up an Oireachtas helpline for Members, which has dealt with thousands of calls. However, I take the Deputy's point. There is an issue with people applying for a first-time passport for a child, getting an estimated delivery date, booking holidays and then later finding there is a problem with the application. We are trying to address this by making sure the clock does not start again after applicants correct their paperwork or give the extra information needed. Instead, we now prioritise corrected applications for conclusion within 15 days, provided the new paperwork is correct. We made that change because of what Oireachtas Members have said to me in trying to improve the efficiency of the system. We are also trying to spot mistakes in applications a lot earlier to ensure that people do not find out about them weeks after they applied. This is an area in which we are improving turnaround times.

I appreciate that. As I said, it is very difficult to spend 45 minutes on the telephone. I would not like to be the member of staff doing it and pulling the hair out of his or her head. There is also an issue in that Members are only allowed five queries per day. That is a difficulty because we might have ten queries on a given day and we must pick which five to raise. There could be ten queries the day after and it always seems, at the end of the week, that there are a number of people whose issues cannot be dealt with. That is terribly unfair.

Will the Minister ensure the estimated issue time online tracker is set to close to the actual date? We have been told in replies to parliamentary questions that it is taking ten days for a simple renewal, 15 days for complex or child renewals and 30 days for first-time online applicants. That is just not factual. If it were, there is no way I would be here today talking about it.

I feel very strongly that passport offices should be open to the public. The banks and every other place are open and getting on with business.

The public desks are open.

However, we cannot go there and pick up passports for people, as we did before to help them out. We were able to keep the whole thing flowing freely. I know people who have not had a holiday for two years. There is a huge influx of people looking for passports. I do not want to be overly critical because I know a large volume of work is going on, but there surely must be a way to make it a little easier to get a passport.

So far this year the Department has issued 400,000 passports, approaching 500,000. We are trying to put the most efficient system in place. We have a system whereby 4,000 to 5,000 passports a day are going out to people. If half those people were to collect their passports at the desk in the Passport Office, it would slow the system down considerably. We have a system that works with An Post whereby we have a constant throughput of passports by the thousand every day. If a passport needs to be pulled out of the system because an intervention is needed for whatever urgent reason, of course that can be facilitated. The whole point of limiting the number of representations to five per week is to try to ensure that Deputies focus on the genuine and urgent cases as opposed to their constituency offices becoming effective passport offices, which was the case for some Oireachtas Members in the past, as everybody knows.

I think we all feel like we have run a passport office-----

Yes, so we are trying to get the system running by itself as efficiently as we can.

Ukraine War

John Brady


76. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures the international community, including Ireland, is taking to address the issue of impending food shortages as a consequence of the war in Ukraine, particularly as it affects countries in the global south; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23372/22]

What action is Ireland and the international community taking to address what will, unfortunately, be impending food shortages due to the illegal invasion of Ukraine, given the supply of wheat and grains to the international community, particularly the global south? That also includes Russia, which is also a major supplier. There are major fears and concerns that this will kick-start serious challenges for the developing world.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had a devastating impact on Ukraine and the Ukrainians. With both countries together producing 12% of the world's traded calories, the invasion has also driven global food, fuel and fertiliser prices to record highs. This has particularly affected some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, which are reliant on food and fertiliser imports.

The World Food Programme, which Ireland supports, is particularly exposed to increased cereal prices and transport costs, making it much more expensive to support the additional 47 million people likely to be on the brink of famine resulting from the conflict.

Building on Irish Aid's long-standing work to address hunger, my Department is working closely with international partners to help address the situation. The International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, has launched a crisis response initiative to help poor farmers withstand increased market turbulence and food prices. Ireland provides more than €4 million annually to IFAD. As a member of its executive board, we have been involved in steering this work.

At the UN Security Council, Ireland is the penholder on the conflict and hunger file. Last month we hosted a high-profile meeting in New York to shine a light directly on the emerging food security crisis.

As the situation evolves, my Department will closely monitor the situation. Ireland already spends €14 million per year on social protection programmes, which can be rapidly scaled up as necessary. At the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December, Ireland pledged €800 million to nutrition work over the five years to 2026, including a three-year strategic partnership with the World Food Programme worth €75 million. In 2020 Ireland spent approximately €193 million on programmes that addressed hunger.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Unfortunately, the conflict in Ukraine is making a dire situation even worse for tens of millions of people who have already been plunged into extreme poverty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shock and economic turmoil in different regions of the globe. Not only has the war disrupted shipping within the Black Sea, which has had a huge impact on the artery for grains and other commodities, but it has impacted exports from Russia and Ukraine to markets in Africa. It has also had a huge impact on Afghanistan, which is on the brink of famine, given the serious challenges there, including drought, the pandemic and the freeze on the national assets. Unfortunately, I think some of the targets and funding commitments made prior to the war will not be sufficient, given the scale of the challenges we face. The Minister of State said Ireland is a penholder. What measures will be taken now?

In a number of areas, we continue our commitment to address directly things such as the price impacts. The Department is encouraging our international partners to adjust programmes rapidly in response to the crisis. It is also important that the international response focuses on the need to prevent a further deterioration of food security. As the Deputy and I both acknowledged, it is expected that the impacts will be felt in areas such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Afghanistan. Irish embassies in those countries have worked closely to monitor the food security situation and the associated risk of conflict. My officials will continue to work with international partners to encourage the diversification of food supply for countries that rely directly on imports from Ukraine and the Russian Federation. We will also explore opportunities to support the scale-up of national social protection programmes to help vulnerable food consumers. In the longer term, we will continue to work with our partners. The key is that the World Food Programme itself is very heavily reliant on directly buying from both Russia and Ukraine.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. As he will be well aware, the war has raised fuel prices, which have pushed up the cost of transporting food to some of the poorest parts of the world. Some 45 of the world's poorest countries depend on Ukraine and Russia for a third of their grain supply. The Minister of State referred to the World Food Programme. Prior to the war, it faced a massive funding shortfall that forced it to cut rations in 17 African countries, including Zimbabwe, Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The gap has widened as donors turn their attention to the conflict in Europe. Every day I turn on the radio and listen to the news, I hear of more billions being given to Ukraine to fund its defence against the war. Absolutely, Ukraine has to be defended, but there is a fallout from this and, unfortunately, I do not see similar announcements made in terms of commitments and donations to ensure that the world does not face into a serious humanitarian crisis.

We continue to highlight the importance of the World Food Programme and support for it. It issued a terrifying warning, I believe, that an additional 47 million people could fall into the grip of acute hunger in 2022. That is from a pre-war baseline of 276 million people. That means that up to 323 million people could become acutely food-insecure in 2022. That is increasing for men, women, boys and girls. Many of Ireland's international humanitarian partners purchase their grain from Ukraine. The impact of price increases means that the World Food Programme, realistically, will be able to reach fewer people with lifesaving assistance within existing resources. Global humanitarian responses will become more expensive, or else we will reach fewer people, at a time when global insecurity and food hunger have been increasing. The United Nations Secretary-General has said the Russian invasion of Ukraine is holding a sword of Damocles over the global economy, especially for poorer and developing countries. Ireland shares those concerns. In December 2021 Ireland signed a three-year strategic partnership with the World Food Programme. That agreement commits Ireland to the provision of €75 million for the period up to 2024.