Overseas Development Aid: Presentations.

The first item on the agenda is the current position in Ethiopia, regarding which we will have a discussion with representatives from Self Help Development International. Members will be aware that we had invited John O'Shea of GOAL to attend today's meeting and that arrangements had been made for him to be here. Unfortunately, he was obliged to withdraw last Friday for personal reasons. We are trying to reschedule his attendance for a later date. It is proposed to hear from the representatives of Trócaire and Concern at next Tuesday's meeting.

I welcome the representatives from SelfHelp Development International: Dr. Noel McDonagh, chairman; Ms Hilary McDonagh, CEO; Ms Nancy Aburi, head of business support; Mr. George Jacob, communications officer; and Ms Monica Gorman, head of programmes. We are glad they could attend to discuss this issue. As the Minister of State is due to arrive at 3 p.m., I ask that contributions be kept short. I invite Dr. Noel McDonagh to make his presentation.

Dr. Noel McDonagh

I thank members for the opportunity to discuss this very important topic. As they know, Ethiopia has, for a number of years, been one of the priority countries for the receipt of Irish bilateral aid. It ranks 170th on the world human development index and has a population of just under 73.8 million. Its citizens have a life expectancy of under 48 years. The quantum of Ireland's bilateral aid contribution last year was approximately €28 million.

Self Help Development International has been operating in Ethiopia since 1984. Its current programme consists of eight projects with an average annual budget of €3 million. There are probably three major issues underlying the current debate surrounding Ireland's continuing support of Ethiopia, namely, the delay in promulgating and accepting the results of the 2005 general election, the detention of opposition politicians and activists and the ongoing border dispute with Eritrea. It is important to recognise, however, that there is no evidence of any high level economic or financial corruption in Ethiopia, as may exist elsewhere in Africa.

Ireland, through DCI, must face decisions on how to react to these issues in the short and longer term. Its range of options span from the extreme of taking no action of any kind to withdrawing all official bilateral aid. To do nothing could be construed as endorsing or authenticating actions that should be regarded as reprehensible to all democratic and humanitarian societies. However, Self Help Development International would counsel strongly against the other extreme of withdrawing of aid for the following reasons.

Independent evaluations, including the DAC reports, indicate that Ireland's aid interventions in Ethiopia are effective and contribute to both change and development. Any discontinuation in this regard should be avoided, if at all possible. It is not the purpose of official Irish aid intervention to support any particular regime in the countries receiving such aid. Ireland should, however, be an advocate and supporter of good government, humanitarian standards and the peaceful resolution of disputes. We should, therefore, work co-operatively with regimes to channel support to the poorest of the poor in the respective countries. Nothing should be allowed to detract from the focus on those who are in such desperate need.

As a matter of principle, Ireland totally subscribes to the policy of separating aid from trade, that is, aid being used as a vehicle to generate trade. Should it, at the same time, subscribe to a principle of using aid to the poorest of the poor as a threat to require specific action from the government of a recipient country? Withdrawal of aid is unlikely to affect a regime. If such a policy were adopted by the entire aid community, it would risk hardening the resolve of an existing regime, which might then regard itself as the victim. By remaining involved, we can continue trying to influence change from the inside rather than be seen as a hostile force trying to impose change from the outside. History suggests that we may be right in this view.

Historically, sanctions have been ineffective in achieving their objectives, while at the same time having significant and unwanted consequences. The breakdown of civil society in Zimbabwe and the inability to treat ill children in Iraq are but two examples.

There is also the risk of retaliatory action in respect of the withdrawal of aid through the counter-withdrawal of registration of Irish operational NGOs active within a particular country. The NGOs are, in the main, working at the level of the people. Zimbabwe may also serve as an example in this regard. The main downside in aid withdrawal is that it places at risk the welfare and future of the very people who are the object of the aid in the first instance. The withdrawal of aid should only be a solution of last resort.

Having outlined some of the reasons the possibilities at the two extremes of potential action should be eschewed, it is fair to ask what other options are open to Ireland to express, in a concrete manner, its disapproval and dissatisfaction, while continuing to try to influence change. We suggest three possible lines of action that could be seen to comprise a structured and step-by-step approach. These lie in the areas of diplomacy, economics and examining channels.

Within the diplomatic sphere of action, a number of steps could be taken including: encouraging and being seen to be supportive of the diplomatic pressure being exerted by the major international political and multinational organisations and agencies; exerting diplomatic pressure through the respective embassies in Dublin and Addis Ababa; and requiring high level direct Government-to-Government discussions on the relevant issues and direct contact and discussions at parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian level, with a view to the exercise of upward pressure on Governments. Contact at the latter level could have a further valuable dimension in the longer term in the development of the understanding of both the elements and the application of democratic principles and of the merits of resolving serious differences by way of peaceful discussion, dialogue and negotiation. The potential of such contact could be immense and may be undervalued.

The main instrument of economic action, apart from the reduction or withdrawal of aid, would be the withdrawal of aid focused on budget support. However, in the case of Ethiopia, this is not of any great significance. DCI's review of its aid modalities in Ethiopia shows that only 1% to 2% of the 2002-04 support is being given as direct federal budget support.

The third option for action lies in the possibility of diverting aid through channels other than the direct federal Government channel. These channels could be the regional governments or the provincial or local authorities. The NGO sector — both international and local — could be another vehicle. In considering this, care would need to be taken to avoid the potential retaliatory action to which I have referred. While there is undoubtedly capacity in the NGO community to absorb additional funds, there must also be some limit to that capacity. However, it should be a long time before we reach the stage where these options need to be considered. We counsel a measured step-by-step approach and reject pre-emptive or knee-jerk reactions.

We must always remember that the adoption of democratic systems of government in the developed world — our world — was a long, difficult and tortuous journey in which so many social and cultural barriers had to be breached. Democracy, as understood and practised by the western world, is still a new concept to many other parts of the world, including Africa. Its full maturity will take time and it will take a greater measure of support and patience than would be represented by a harsh and hostile action from which the most vulnerable would be the greatest sufferers and victims.

We are generally supportive of the policy and practice of DCI of working through a variety of channels, including supporting African Governments. We appreciate the challenges this represents but are confident in the systems of accountability and in the calibre of the personnel responsible for the administration of these kinds of programmes. We are confident that, through its continued support to the Ethiopian Government, DCI is exerting a positive influence.

Self Help Development International's programmes have been in operation since 1984 and the organisation has operated through a range of political changes in Ethiopia and with a variety of funding mechanisms, including the very successful and flexible MAPS process. Our focus is very clearly on the needs of poor rural communities and we believe their interests are best served by continuing to strengthen our rural development programme. We do not intend to make changes in response to the political climate at this time but obviously we will continue to monitor the situation.

I thank Dr. McDonagh for his very precise and apposite contribution.

I thank Dr. McDonagh and the members of Self Help Development International for giving the committee the benefit of their experience. Is Dr. McDonagh aware of the serious incidence of imprisonment and murder of young students in Ethiopia? What is the best approach to take in expressing our concerns to the Ethiopian Government? I took careful note of his comments on the withdrawal of aid. However, we should be insisting on the release of all political prisoners after the incidents following the elections. The question of direct budget support is open for consideration and we will listen to other submissions before passing judgment.

The Council of Europe and the European Union have a role, while the relevant clauses of the European Parliament's resolution of 15 December 2005 need to be implemented. Does Dr. McDonagh think it would be useful if the European Parliament was to go ahead with the proposal to set up an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate what is happening in Ethiopia? Would that be helpful? This issue should be raised at the Council of Ministers meeting in March, a matter we will discuss with the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. If an international commission of inquiry was to be set up, would it influence internal matters in Ethiopia?

Dr. McDonagh

The Deputy would have far greater experience of bodies such as an international commission of inquiry; however, one is always cautious about such an approach, unless it is undertaken with the agreement of the Ethopian Government. I imagine there might be some resistance to it, but I do not know. To set up an international commission of inquiry without the full co-operation and agreement of the Ethopian Government would prove to be counterproductive, as has been proved in other similar cases. As I stated, one must take a step by step approach, starting with the first diplomatic steps of persuasion by various international agencies and directly through the embassy and on a government to government level. We need to set out clearly what we want to see happen such as the request to have all detainees released. We should be seen to be supportive of the steps being taken in the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. I stated in my submission that the level of direct budget support within the total Irish budget was very small and unlikely to have an influence.

I very much appreciate the succinct presentation by the delegation. We need to clarify a number of points in regard to the recent Ethiopian elections. How much of our consideration and analysis of the recent elections is a matter for diplomacy and to what extent should it touch the aid issue, if at all? The elections in Ethiopia were observed by international bodies. One of the interesting points about the international observation of elections is that Ireland has been asked to observe many elections. Of the number we send, approximately 6% to 7% of observers have political experience, in other words, parliamentarians or former parliamentarians, with the remainder coming from civil society, from those who have registered. They prepare a report on the elections.

The Organisation of African States, the old OAU which negotiated on the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, has recently been reconstituted. To what extent has diplomacy been tried or exhausted in order that one is immediately able to call for the cutting off of aid to Ethiopia? Those who advocate such a strategy have an onus to give answers to those two questions. The last time we discussed the position in Ethiopia I mentioned that my sister-in-law worked in Tigre and was one of the longest serving Irish people in the country Ethiopia. I am somewhat familiar, therefore, with the work being done on the ground. To what extent will this work be sealed from the consequences of any policy which the Government might be forced to adopt on the provision of aid? Will those who advocate the removal of aid be happy knowing that as a consequence the programmes to which we allocate money, for instance the €4 million for education, €5 million for health and €1.5 million for HIV-AIDS projects, will be ended? I know that at least four Irish NGOs were involved in multi-annual programmes, MAPS. In 2005, Trócaire received €400,000; GOAL, €1.8 million; Self Help Development International, €1.4 million and Concern, €700.000. Do those who want to cut off aid to Ethiopia advocate ending this funding immediately?

The committee should be able to evaluate the consequences of taking such action. It is an interesting exercise because it will arise in a similar way in other countries. It has already arisen in regard to Uganda. If one is to be practical about an administrative programme, one must ask what proportion from the ground up will be sealed off before a claim will be made for cutting aid, or will the case be made to cut aid and to hell with the consequences? If that were to be the case, I could not possibly support it, having seen the implementation of programmes on the ground in Uganda. My colleagues have visited Ethiopia. It raises the question of the extent to which it is real, in the case of other donor countries and their relationship with Ethiopia and other African countries. They are heavily involved in direct budget support and their decisions to date have included a reduction of aid to governments by way of some sort of sanction or moral suasion. In the case of Ireland, the figure is 1.3%. What price will be paid in Ethiopia on foot of this type of exercise?

I agree with Self Help Development International on what might be done. The newly developed structures relating to the Organisation of African States are far more amenable in terms of resolving certain issues than they were at the time of the resolution of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border conflict. There are issues in regard to the civil society's contribution to resolving post-election situation. A series of things could yet be achieved at diplomatic level but this should be done through moral suasion rather than the reduction of aid. It is needless to say that there are other issues which could be taken up through the International Commission of Jurists. If one were to establish an international body, as my colleague suggests, it should be directed at the rights of members of the opposition, whose release from prison I support. I also support any obstruction placed in the way of the civil society.

I welcome the presentation, which was reassuring and which copper-fastened what we heard from other organisations in Ethiopia.

I support the point that the withdrawal of support from Ethiopia should be considered only as a last resort. As Deputy Michael D. Higgins eloquently stated, many of the issues in Ethiopia that coincidentally came to a head at the same time must be addressed. Senator Henry, other members and I visited Ethiopia in another capacity. Progress is being made on issues such as the development of a vibrant civil society.

I was rather surprised by the success of the opposition parties. The Chairman, other members and I met most of them approximately six months prior to the elections, at which time I was not inspired with confidence that they would make a great deal of progress. It is suggested in the briefing note that the success of the opposition was more to do with an expression of anti-government sentiment than pro-opposition support.

Some two years ago, Senator Henry raised the issue of there having been no census in Ethiopia for some years. In addition, there was no indication that the people there regarded this as essential. It became fairly evident during our trip that money is being misspent in the administration of the health service and by the Ethiopian Government. Some of the NGO projects we visited, including that run by Self Help Development International, were inspiring. What is happening in Tigre is good, regardless of whether it is being done by missionaries or the federal government.

I am not sure if it is fair to put the following question, which I have also put to the Minister, to the delegation. What are the fundamental political flaws that need to be addressed? The members of the delegation should feel free not to answer that question if they so wish. We all agree that it would be good for Ethiopia and elsewhere if the presidential style of government could accommodate a parliamentary democratic system while bearing in mind the different cultural positions that obtain in Africa. Those issues and others of a governance nature must be addressed. If the opposition groupings were to be assured that Zenawi's Government would be prepared to earnestly address those governance issues, some progress could be made. I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins that moral suasion is one of the ways we could make some progress there. As stated previously, Ireland, unlike other countries, has a certain level of moral authority through the organisation represented by our guests and others like it in places such as Addis Ababa. Perhaps the members of the delegation could outline their thoughts in that regard.

On Deputy Carey's remarks, the opposition in Ethiopia went from some 12 seats to 178 seats out of a total of 546 seats. That was an enormous gain. I understand that, as of last week, 86 opposition members have taken up their seats, although they refused to do so in the first instance. There is a suggestion that 135 members have entered parliament at this stage. In any event, the election was successful from an opposition point of view.

This debate is about the age-old dilemma of conditionality in our aid programme. I will commence by stating that I would be opposed to any withdrawal of the official development assistance programme to Ethiopia. I say that because fundamentally I agree with Dr. McDonagh's remarks on the implications of Ireland pulling out of Ethiopia, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Ireland, through its NGOs and other international donors, has been engaged for many years with the Government and local communities in Ethiopia and it would be unconscionable to pull out because of alleged bad governance in that country. I accept that there were difficulties after the election. However, by any independent analysis, the election was a competitive exercise and the opposition was involved with the media prior to the election before problems emerged. The election was internationally observed. Democracy itself is a tight fit and we cannot expect of Africa the same standards of democratic institutional compliance as we do from modern democracies in the western world. Many of these countries are emerging from terrible legacies of chronic conflict, underdevelopment and, in many cases, tribal conflict and wars. It will take some time for democratic institutional compliance to become at least as acceptable as we would expect in the west and north.

When this issue arises, I continually return to the fact that bad or weak governance or poor public administration systems are part and parcel of the development challenge for us. If one examines the breakdown of our programme in Ethiopia, one will note that we spend €4 million to €5 million on education, the same on health and €6 million on problems relating to Tigré. This means intensive, long-term social and economic development of that northern province, the poorest part of Ethiopia. We also spend a little more than €4 million on governance, public administration, human rights protection and supporting civil society. In other words, we are addressing those issues as part of our development programme in Ethiopia. We are not saying that it does not matter that there have been weak parliamentary systems. It is true that there were difficulties, not so much in the running of the election but in its aftermath when the counting was slow. The latter led to suggestions of irregularities. This spread among the communities and the opposition and it was suggested that the latter had won the election. In fact, the opposition had done well. That is good. It means the democratic system is working and people have a choice in whom they can vote for. In other words, they had a choice not to vote for the government party. Many of them exercised that democratic franchise by voting for the opposition parties.

There were 380 complaints of irregularities, on foot of which the national election board ordered an investigation, as a result of which, the election was rerun in 31 constituencies, which is to be welcomed. It is a very sophisticated development to have a national election board, a complaints process and a procedure in place to rerun an election in a constituency on foot of allegations of non-compliance or difficulties in the counting process. The unrest flowing from the uncertainty about the counting process and a suggestion the opposition had really won the election indicates robust politics and are what should be expected when a new democracy embarks on a free election process. From time to time violence and unrest will break out.

What started out as a peaceful protest to which the authorities responded in a manner which will be investigated by the government has caused a significant debate among EU donors, including Ireland, among donor partners and Ethiopia itself. To suggest that because there is political instability after an election, some opposition deputies have refused to take their seats and that investigations are being carried out, we should withdraw from our long-term engagement with the Ethiopian people and government is unconscionable. It would be to deny that we are making progress in Ethiopia at political and diplomatic level, in the participation of children in primary school and the other marvellous projects members have seen.

I have been to Ethiopia as a Minister of State and seen at first hand the excellent work being done under the various programmes building the capacity of the people to help themselves. Even when there is no mass famine, several million people remain at risk of starvation due to chronic food shortages which occur even in the best of times. We must always remember not to allow ourselves to be thrown off course in our commitment to the poorest people in the world due to occasional slippages or difficulties as they develop in their parliamentary institutions. We must support them diplomatically and through our aid programme in building their democratic and institutional capacity. Therefore, I welcome and thank Dr. McDonagh for a very measured response to these international affairs.

The Minister of State has arrived, but I will allow Senator Henry to make a very brief comment.

Thank you very much, Chairman. I attended a meeting in Ethiopia last autumn at which I stressed that Ireland's commitment was to the people rather than one or other political party. We will work with whatever party is in government. While it is very important to ensure our aid to the Ethiopian people continues, there are certain things we must point out to the government, with which we have a very good relationship. The fact that there are robust politics, to which Deputy O'Donnell referred, does not mean elected opposition members can be put in prison. It must be made very clear that they must be released. We are in a strong position to point out that in the not too distant past to improve the political climate on this island we had to release prisoners, despite a lack of enthusiasm about letting some of them out.

While I am glad various opposition members have taken their seats in the Ethiopian Parliament and wish more had done so, government changes to parliamentary procedures are unfortunate. That must also be pointed out. It is a pity that non-governmental organisations and academics are frequently regarded as a source of opposition rather than as bodies and people who can be helpful in the democratic process. I hope Self Help Development International will also be in a position to point this out. The Chairman and I met Mr. Berhanu Nega when he was here last summer. I am sure it causes him as much distress as it causes me to think that after the incredible vote he received in Addis Ababa, he has been incarcerated for months. I hope he and other opposition parliamentarians and their supporters will be released as soon as possible.

Dr. McDonagh has made a stimulating and worthwhile contribution and suggestions which we will certainly bear in mind. Some of his suggestions fit in with members' views about the interaction in which parliamentarians can engage. Senator Henry, Deputy Carey and I have been to Ethiopia and made a report on our visit. We will do whatever we can by way of dialogue or exchange to try to resolve this very difficult situation. I thank Dr. McDonagh for attending and making an excellent contribution.

Dr. McDonagh

I have very little to add. While various questions were asked by members, most of the replies came from their own mouths or in responses from other Deputies and Senators. While there are still some difficulties, the most important of which relates to acceptance of what might be called "our standards of democratic compliance", a great deal of progress has been made. We are upset that there has not been more, but we are all available to help matters along. None of us doubts that the right road to progress is the diplomatic process which has not been remotely exhausted.

I thank Dr. McDonagh. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and his officials, Mr. Ronan Murphy, Mr. ConorO'Riordan and Ms Pauline Conway, to this meeting to discuss the current situation in Ethiopia. I thank the Minister of State for giving the committee a briefing note in advance and invite him to make his presentation. He is probably aware that the committee has already heard a presentation from representatives of Self Help Development International. Copies of the organisation's positive and succinct submission are available. The committee will hear some other contributions later in the meeting. It was expected that GOAL would contribute to this meeting but its chief executive, Mr. John O'Shea, has had to apologise for being unable to attend. He is out of the country for personal reasons. The committee will hear from representatives of Trócaire and Concern at a future meeting.

I thank the Chairman for his interest in this matter. I welcome the opportunity to address the committee on an issue of considerable public interest and importance. Recent negative political developments in Ethiopia have raised questions about Ireland's development co-operation programme in that country.

It is easy to forget why Ireland decided, in 1994, to co-operate with Ethiopia. As one of the poorest countries in the world, Ethiopia had immense needs at every level. Its government had committed to making the difficult transition towards democracy after generations of civil war and military and imperial dictatorship. The Ethiopian Government's strategy for combatting and reducing poverty had been accepted by Ireland and other international donors as a good basis for co-operation. Compared to other African countries, Ethiopia had relatively low levels of corruption, an efficient public sector and acceptable systems for managing and monitoring public funds.

In 2005, Ireland's total bilateral aid allocation to Ethiopia was €35 million, €30 million of which was allocated to governmental regional, local and district authorities and €5 million of which was allocated to Irish and international non-governmental agencies. I have given the committee a breakdown of the spending of that money. Ireland's aid is focussed on addressing the basic needs of the rural poor. We support social safety-net programmes, which provide for the direct transfer of funds to the poorest people in Ethiopia. We help local authorities to provide health, education, water, sanitation and other services to their populations. We are funding the construction of schools and health clinics and the sinking of wells. Our main aid programme focusses strongly on the promotion of better governance by investing in activities that promote the voice of poor communities and make the government more responsive to people's needs and by assisting the Human Rights Commission and civic education.

Ethiopia's human rights record has improved since 1991, although elections in 1995 and 2000 were marked by governmental harassment of opposition parties and a boycott of the polls by the most influential opposition organisations. The elections of May 2005 gave the Ethiopian people a remarkable opportunity to express their political views by participating in a poll that offered them a meaningful choice for the first time in their history. The opposition increased its share of the 575 seats in the parliament from 12 to 173. Controversies relating to the counting process and subsequent protest demonstrations ended tragically on 6 June 2005 when over 30 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. There were more violent demonstrations in November 2005, when a further 46 people, including several policemen, were killed. Most of the leading figures in the largest opposition party, as well as journalists and civil society activists, were arrested. As there are conflicting views about the causes of the disturbances, we have supported the establishment of an independent inquiry. While all sides bear some share of responsibility, there can be no doubt that the government's response has been unacceptably repressive. That is the view not just of Ireland but of many donor countries which, like Ireland, are directly involved in Ethiopia by providing public assistance.

My deep concerns about the current political and human rights situation in Ethiopia are shared by many of my colleagues at EU development minister level. I spoke to the representatives of many other European donor countries about the matter before coming to this meeting. I have made my views clear to the chargé d’affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy in Ireland. Along with its EU partners, Ireland continues to emphasise to the Ethiopian Government the need to respect human rights and the rule of law, to strengthen the democratisation process by opening a non-conditional dialogue with opposition parties, to allow such parties and civil society organisations to operate freely and without hindrance and to allow the private media to operate without restrictions. It made that point most recently at a meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister on 17 January. Ireland, like other donor countries, has been obliged to review its development aid activities and plans in Ethiopia. Most such countries have put new initiatives on hold. Larger donors such as the UK, the World Bank and the EU have announced that funds intended for the Ethiopian federal treasury via the direct budget support mechanism will be reallocated to more tightly earmarked forms of support for local governments to provide basic services in the health, education and water sectors. Many of the other donor countries that have stopped their budget aid have copied earlier Irish decisions on the allocation of money in Ethiopia. The sanctions — I do not particularly like that word — being applied in other jurisdictions mimic the direction taken by the Irish aid programme.

No Irish aid moneys go directly to the Ethiopian Government via direct or general budget support. Irish aid is delivered by means of a variety of modalities. It is allocated to sector ministries, local governments and civil society organisations, for example, or via trust funds. In 2005, Irish non-governmental organisations received financial support of €5 million for their work in Ethiopia. The primary aim of Ireland's aid programme is to lift the poorest Ethiopians out of the hopelessness and misery of poverty. Our aid is tightly earmarked to achieve that aim with robust audit and oversight mechanisms. As part of a small representative group of donors, including Sweden, the USA, the World Bank, the UN development programme and Canada, Ireland is working on a formal analysis of the political and economic context for future development assistance in Ethiopia. That analysis, which is scheduled to be completed near the end of February, will inform a larger donor meeting in Paris in early March, which will discuss a joint action plan and the next steps for the donor group. When the joint donor assessment for which we are waiting has been completed, we will take whatever action is required in these circumstances. Our action will depend on Ethiopia's performance and on whether the situation in that country improves or deteriorates. Ireland and a small number of representative donor countries are actively leading the joint assessment process, which is to be completed by the end of the month. The process will inform our future decisions on whether to retain our interest in the existing programme. The review of our involvement with Ethiopia is taking place in that context.

There are reports of progress in the domestic political situation in recent days. In late November 2005, the Ethiopian Parliament established an independent investigation commission to examine the violence of June and November and to determine whether excessive force was used by the police and the army. The commission is expected to report by the end of February. An initiative to reform Ethiopia's parliamentary rules of procedure and to strengthen the role of the opposition is under way. A proposal to strengthen the national election board has been submitted to the EU for financial support. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia recently expressed his willingness to consult the opposition on the composition of the national election board and to amend the draft press law. Dialogue is under way between the government and two opposition political parties. More opposition members have taken their seats in parliament. It is believed that 135 out of 172 opposition MPs have entered parliament. The majority of detainees arrested during the unrest last November have been released, although some issues of serious concern remain.

There has been little progress on the forthcoming trial of opposition leaders and other political detainees. Some 131 individuals, including elected leaders of the main opposition party, journalists and civil society leaders, are facing serious charges of treason and genocide. It is not expected that the charges will be dropped in advance of the trial, which is due to begin on 23 February. Ireland and its EU partners have made it clear to the Ethiopian Prime Minister that the trial needs to be conducted in a transparent, fair and speedy manner, in accordance with international standards. The Prime Minister agreed to an EU request for international observation of the trial. We have also called for the release of the detainees as a confidence building measure and for better access to detainees by families, lawyers and the international community generally.

A key question relevant to our development co-operation relationship with Ethiopia is whether recent events represent a temporary blip on an otherwise positive trend or the beginning of a downward spiral. The answer to this question is not clear at this point. I hope it is the former, but I do not discount the latter. The internal crisis in Ethiopia is heightened by the rising tensions on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border and both could worsen before they improve. I welcome the current US initiative aimed at reducing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea and resolving the stalemate on border demarcation, as well the plan of the UN Secretary General to convene a meeting of the Algiers peace agreement witnesses. Eritrea should remove immediately the restrictions it has imposed on the operations of UNME, the UN peacekeeping operation for Ethiopia in Eritrea. Ireland and the European Union support the full implementation without delay of the 2002 decision of the Ethiopia-Eritrea boundary commission on border demarcation. Both countries need to achieve a full normalisation of their relationship through political dialogue and the adoption of confidence building measures.

I intend to keep Ireland's aid programme for Ethiopia under constant review. Developments with regard to the internal crisis and the border dispute will influence the future development co-operation relationship between Ireland and Ethiopia. If the circumstances so dictate, we are prepared to take unpalatable decisions. However, given the stakes for the welfare of some of Africa's most vulnerable, poorest people, I make no excuses for taking a careful and measured approach. In making future assessments of and decisions about Ireland's co-operation with Ethiopia, I will be guided by what is happening on the ground and close contact with Ireland's EU and like-minded development partners.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming here today. Representatives of a development organisation appeared before the committee earlier. I thought the purpose of the meeting was to listen to the groups represented and the Minister of State and then make a judgment.

I did not have the pleasure of visiting Ethiopia or seeing the situation at first hand, but I had the pleasure of having Mr. Nega as a guest here last summer before he was imprisoned. He outlined an horrific picture of what was happening there and it is more than robust politics. If the committee had the time, I could make a submission on the most recent incidents that have taken place. Anybody who cares to visit the media Ethiopia website would be horrified by what is posted on it. There are nine major areas in terms of atrocities and the erosion of the democratic process outlined on the website. I am not sure if I have time to read them out.

Yes, if the Deputy is brief.

I will summarise them as much as possible. In the past eight months the Ethiopian Government has behaved recklessly and irresponsibly towards its citizens, with the police shooting demonstrators and putting the leadership of the main opposition coalition parties in prison. They are now awaiting trial for treason. Their only crime was that they had dared to stand against the ruling party in the elections. There was evidence of the subversion of the election process in May 2005 and further evidence was provided in November. The government has shown that it has no intention of changing its attitude of ruthlessly holding on to power as shown by the disappearance of children, the torturing of farmers whose only offence is they are suspected of having voted for the opposition parties, as well as the continued ban on the free press. The focus on attacking the young is startling. In the light of the deception of and violence perpetrated by the current rulers, property has been looted and social and economic chaos fomented. There has also been an attempt to divide people on tribal lines which could have frightening consequences in view of what has happened in other parts of Africa.

The Ethiopian Government has threatened to close down the independent network of international and national NGOs and tried to promote its own NGO network. This threat was made some time ago but has been repeated recently, with the prospect of western donors cutting direct budget support. Some of our European partners have decided to cut back on the aid provided by them. Will the Minister of State give us the details? What responsibility do we have as a country that donates a large amount in aid to Ethiopia? Should we insist on the putting in place of democratic principles before beginning any new programmes? The Minister of State has indicated that he has been in touch with the chargé d’affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy in Dublin, informing him of the Government’s concern. Is there evidence that we are propping up what is obviously a corrupt regime? Will the Minister of State give us more details of the programmes in place? He talks about sectoral arms of the Ethiopian Government getting taxpayer’s money. Will he give us more details?

The exercise being undertaken is to keep a relatively open mind on the issue until such time as we hear all of the delegates who are to appear before us. I am aware of the dangers of even considering a reduction in aid because of what is happening. However, until such time as all the delegates are heard, we should delay coming to conclusions.

I will try not to be repetitive as I made a number of points during the presentation of the previous delegation. The Minister of State made a rather enigmatic statement towards the end of his presentation, that he would not hesitate to take such unpalatable decisions as were necessary. I am not sure I should encourage him to expand on what he means by this. In preparation for his answer, I would like to make a couple of points.

It is very important to be practical on foreign policy issues. We need to separate human rights, civil society and aid issues. Human rights issues can be advanced without touching on the general issue of aid. Human rights issues in Africa are affected by our relationship and interest in increasing assistance to the Organisation of African States which have changed even in recent weeks with the dispute about the possible presidency of Sudan. There are matters which should be solved on a regional basis and on which the Government should be seeking to assist. This is important in the context of the United Nations and international politics.

We should be giving and increasing such assistance to develop the human rights capacity of the executive agency, particularly given the history in resolving what is an extraordinary dispute, that is, the previous and recurring dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia over approximately 15% of a stretch that is — I do not wish to be trivial about it — not much longer than a couple of playing fields. It is an extraordinary dispute. Of course, buried within the territorial dispute are a series of other tensions. Those issues of human rights are separate to the issues of civil society.

Deputy O'Donnell has pointed out that if we look at how the Irish budget assists different projects, we see a considerable taste for increasing the civil component, both proportionally and absolutely, which brings us to the issue of aid. As I asked in response to the previous presentation, is aid the instrument by which we seek to advance issues of human rights or issues of civil society? If we take that road, the onus is on us to be able to answer the question of whether we seek to put pressure on the Ethiopian Government or on the Ethiopian people. I imagine even those who are in favour of cutting off aid to Ethiopia simpliciter would not want to affect the 1 million AIDS orphans there. Would they want to affect the primary care programme or the achievement of 65% attendance by boys and girls at primary schooling? The obligation is on those who advance such a strategy to show the degree to which they have sealed off the consequences for the most vulnerable of the Ethiopian people.

This brings us to the next issue which is whether we can use aid space to advance a dialogue about human rights in the civil society. We need to hear more about how this could be done and how successful it would be. Is it the best diplomatic instrument? I am not so sure how far we would get with this approach.

Recently I looked at a new publication, issued in 2005, that looked at arguments on the efficacy of aid. This leads to a question I want to put to the Minister of State. In one study of Uganda, between 1991 and 1995, all but 13% of the funding that was directed at primary care went missing, in other words 87%. However, when the Government changed the regime in 2001 and required publication of the transfers within the general allocation of education, 80% of all the funding could be accounted for. Therefore, if I am to set up an answer to my question with regard to how we can seal off what is necessary to the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia, one of the instruments is the requirement of publication of the transfer between federal and regional receivers of aid and agencies and also the transfer between school boards, schools and the agencies distributing in the area of health and education. That task being done, the residual is what is left.

The residual in the Irish case is 1.3% of the total Irish allocation to Ethiopia. This is, in fact, direct budget support. Therefore, it is a matter of what we are going to do with the 1.3%. One might ask, "What leverage does it give us?" There are a number of important issues. The killings that have taken place should be a matter of international scrutiny. We should use mechanisms available, for example, the European Union should be represented at the trial that is to take place as should individual member countries of the union. The International Commission of Jurists should also be represented and, in addition, some representatives of civil society international human rights groups should be represented.

This is a bad time for human rights groups who have been badly treated recently, for example, in the past week or two at meetings considering the Darfur situation. In Sudan many were arrested and detained, including some people from Ireland and some people associated with my office. The issue is how we carry out our observation. With regard to civil society there are other mechanisms of doing it. For those who say we should cut off all aid to Uganda and Ethiopia we must ask them to make the case for using aid as a condition. If they do that we must ask them what will be the effect and consequences. We need to be shown that.

I believe the important fundamental principle of Irish aid policy over the years is that as much as it can be, it is people-to-people aid that goes to the villages. We should begin at the bottom and look for transparency and publication within regions and between regions, between the federal government and whoever. We will have our row with Ethiopia. We will tell the Ethiopian Government that it is unacceptable to have the opposition in jail or to treat civilians who protest in a particular way and explain we believe there are shortfalls with regard to human rights. In that way we will have sealed off our argument and the Ethiopian Government response to it from the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia. That is the most responsible way to go.

I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins that we must look at the reason we are in Ethiopia. The Minister of State too opened his remarks by saying that we must remember why we are so engaged in Ethiopia and our other priority countries in Africa. It is essentially because of a humanitarian response to the poorest people in the world. We are not there for "any selfish or strategic interest" or because we have a political, colonial or other strategic interest in these countries. We are there to help the people and we work, in all our programmes, with the poorest people in the poorest communities and countries of the world, which happen to be in Africa. As everybody knows, Ethiopia has had a chronic history of starvation, conflict and underdevelopment. Even in good years, it suffers chronic food shortages to which the international community, including Ireland, responds on a persistent long-term basis.

This is a debate about conditionality. I said it earlier, but I repeat it now that the Minister of State is here, I am opposed to any reduction or change in our programme of support and assistance to the Ethiopian people via the Government, the NGOs or our programmes of assistance. It is comforting for us to know that even if there are difficulties — we admit there are difficulties as post the competitive elections there has been unrest and there are difficulties of governance as there are in many of the African countries we support — we can use the respectful partnership we have with the Ethiopian authorities and with our other partner governments in Africa to make space for diplomatic dialogue.

It is very important that we should keep our relationship with the Ethiopian Government respectful, and respect its sovereignty. Some of the comments we listen to on what we should do to the Ethiopian Government suggest we have some sort of colonial influence over Ethiopia. We are respectful partners with the Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian people in their development. We are only there to help. Given our respectful relations with the Ethiopian Government, we have, from time to time, been able to use that relationship to get things done during famines and emergencies that other donors have not been able to do.

Many of the other donor governments working with us in Ethiopia, the UK and other European Union countries, have budget support programmes. Large components of their aid programmes are by way of budget support, by direct funding into the exchequer of the Ethiopian Government. They must be and have been very careful. They are making a measured response and using an alternative system, known, I understand, as "protecting basic services", which is an alternative instrument to budget support. Many of the other donors to Ethiopia, as a result of the current instability and dissatisfaction with political developments in that country following the election, are readjusting their programmes to be sure they can exercise influence over the government.

Very little of our programme is by way of direct budget support — as has been pointed out, it is about 1%. I know the Minister from time to time comes under pressure from John O'Shea of GOAL and others to respond immediately with a knee-jerk reaction to political instability and governance matters, which may not be to our satisfaction at all times. The governance, democratic and institutional weaknesses are all part of the development challenge in Ethiopia and other countries, which we must address and are addressing.

I welcome the fact that almost €4 million of our overall programme funding goes towards overall governance, improved public sector institutional performance and continuing our work on human development, education, health, looking after orphans, HIV-AIDS, basic primary care systems and rural economic development, as well as a major programme in the northern province of Tigré, where we have been deeply engaged with great success. Our programme in Ethiopia is well monitored and accounted for through the various mechanisms of this Parliament and through our accountability mechanisms at embassy level on the ground and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The elections and unrest, human rights and civil and political rights in Ethiopia are relevant to us but they should not in any way be conditional or linked to our aid programme to the extent that anybody would consider withdrawing life-altering and lifesaving funds from this very poor part of the world. I am glad the Minister is taking a measured response to these developments, in which he has the support of the committee. I am sure he would, before he made changes to the programme or took difficult decisions, as he referred to them, come back to the committee to seek our support or permission.

I welcome the Minister of State's interesting speech, in which he seemed able to combine the two functions of good cop and bad cop, or hard cop and soft cop, and indicated that there were moments when he would find it appropriate to deal robustly with the representatives of the Ethiopian Government. Some of the relevant areas have been outlined. I agree with my colleague that these include the killing of people during the turbulent situation and the imprisonment of parliamentarians, which is a matter that is always taken up by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in various countries throughout the world, as well as the changes in parliamentary structures and procedures made by the Ethiopian Government, which do not always operate to the advantage of democracy, a point well made by Senator Henry.

It is appropriate that we make our position clear in this area. I have been contacted by a number of groups and individuals, either Irish people with an interest or history of working in Ethiopia, Ethiopians or people who have undertaken academic research on the situation in Ethiopia. They all make pleas on behalf of what has been already described as a vulnerable population. The last thing we want is to further disadvantage people who are already very marginalised, as we know. We are well aware of the periodic famines which strike that country, its 1 million HIV orphans and the astonishing fact that just 82% of the population live on less than $1 a day — that is stark poverty, which we must acknowledge and respect.

The Minister stated, "No Irish aid moneys go directly to the Government of Ethiopia via direct or general budget support," a phrase I find interesting. I support the comment of Deputy Michael D. Higgins that the one way of controlling aid and making sure funding goes in the direction it is supposed to go is by requiring accountability and the publication of accounts, which is the least to which the Irish taxpayer is entitled. However, when the Minister states, "No Irish aid moneys go directly to the Government of Ethiopia via direct or general budget support," it seems almost as if this is a statement of principle and that this is a good thing and a way of ensuring the money is appropriately and properly spent. If, in this instance, the Minister of State regards it as a matter of principle and a good thing, generally speaking, why does this policy not extend to funding for Uganda, for example? I understand approximately €7.9 million has gone to Uganda in direct or budgetary aid despite Uganda being a country with serious question marks about its illegal military intervention in the Congo and its use of the natural resources of the Congo, such as minerals, diamonds and so forth. In light of the Minister's statement about our funding not going directly in the Ethiopian case, will he comment on the parallel situation regarding Uganda?

I join the consensus of the committee in its response to the Minister of State's contribution and welcome what he says is a measured response by the Government. We are all somewhat disappointed that one of the bright new hopes of Africa, Prime Minister Meles, seems to have foundered at the first test of democracy, namely, a democratic election was held, he did not like the result and immediately introduced repressive measures. The Minister of State is correct, with the donor countries of the European Union, to call the Prime Minister to task in that area.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the human rights dimension. All of us are concerned when we read that of the 131 people arrested on 21 December — astonishingly, as 17 of them were based outside of Ethiopia, I do not know how Prime Minister Meles will enforce that — most of the main opposition leadership, the CUD, were included. Apart from the ten elected MPs, two civil society representatives and journalists were included. We are all aware that throughout history, if one does not like the message, one usually attacks the messenger first and hopes the message will go away. For that reason, I would like the Minister of State to elaborate on the paragraph in his speech where he states, "A key question relevant to our development co-operation relationship with Ethiopia, is whether recent events represent a temporary blip ... or the beginning of a downward spiral." The Minister of State's following comments were somewhat speculative, which is surprising for the Department of Foreign Affairs. He stated, "The answer to this question is not clear ... I hope it is the former, but I do not discount the latter." The Minister might have some basis for this speculation.

It seems the efforts made by the donor countries, Ireland included, have halted the Prime Minister's more aggressive form of retaliation, and he seems to have been reined in to some degree. One can only hope the ongoing diplomatic efforts will bear fruit.

It is important to record that the Prime Minister has expressed his willingness to consult the opposition on the composition of the national election board — the fairness of the composition of this board was disputed by the opposition — and to review the draft press law and amend it if necessary. This is important. In any functioning democracy, it is important a free press exists independent of government. The area all questionable leaders will attack first is the media because if the message is either strangled or repressed, there is a real chance the mass of the people will not get the proper message, and this will help a leader to stay in power and indulge in repressive methods. I do not want to paint a negative picture of the Prime Minister because I agree with all the comments made so far, both in this debate and the previous one, to the effect that Ethiopia is and should be held up as a model, despite the flawed nature of its democracy. Deputy O'Donnell is correct that democracy is a fragile flower that is not always planted successfully in environments where it has not had a history, as is the case in Ethiopia. I, too, do not wish to support the calls from responsible persons outside this House that the Government of Ethiopia should be penalised by the withdrawal of aid. The point has been very well made at this committee that it is not the government that would suffer but the ordinary people. I agree with this totally.

I believe I am correct, on the basis of our total aid budget, that the figure of 1.3% which is being bandied about roughly equates to €300,000 or €400,000. I do not believe it could be much more. Perhaps the Minister of State will have a view on where this money has been spent. It was given directly and is not large.

To what figure of 1.3% is the Senator referring? I am a little confused.

It is the figure contained in a briefing document on direct budget support.

It pertains to 2004. The Minister of State said there was none in 2005.

We are not involved in providing direct budget support, as I will explain later.

I just wanted clarification.

Let me refer to what may have been an unintentional contradiction in the Minister of State's speech. He said there was no direct aid to the Government of Ethiopia and referred to a variety of modalities pertaining to sectoral Ministries and local government. Will he clarify this?

I welcome the Minister of State's speech very much and certainly support the view of all my colleagues that withdrawing aid from Ethiopia will not improve the position on human rights, nor will it further democracy. It is important that we recognise Irish aid is going to the most diverse groups all over Ethiopia, including some of the poorest of the poor. I was never able to find an organisation of which I approved which was not getting Irish aid. I give Ms Conway great credit in this regard. Even when I had found what I believed was an entirely new outfit called Mothers for Mothers, through which Ethiopian mothers were teaching other mothers how to cook edible cacti, the first thing I was told was that it was supported by Ireland. We seem to have a foot in every corner. This is extraordinarily important to the Ethiopian people.

I thank the Minister of State for being so polite in replying to my letters. He should keep telling the Ethiopian Government that we know what is going on; that we realise members of the opposition are in prison and that we disapprove of this; that we realise there has been intimidation, particularly of young people, even schoolchildren; and that we are very disappointed about what has happened in a country which we expected had a much brighter future, as Senator Mooney stated. We expected a much brighter future since the count, rather than the election, took place last year.

On a point of information, the reference to the figure of 1.3% is contained in the written submission by Self Help Development International which states DCI's review of its aid modalities in Ethiopia shows only 1.3% of the support in 2002-04 being given as direct federal budget support.

That was in 2004, as I stated, whereas the Minister of State is referring to 2005.

In responding to the many questions and issues raised, it is important that points of clarity be introduced early on. I do not agree with Deputy Michael Higgins's suggestion that we should somehow separate human rights issues and the giving of aid, although I may have misunderstood him. We believe fundamentally that performance on human rights issues should be linked to the giving of aid, especially in the light of the scale of our aid programme and the increases in the amounts given. The link between the donation of aid and performance in terms of democracy, human rights and respect for the law and the opposition should be much clearer than it has been heretofore. This informs our approach to the problems in Ethiopia.

I have suggested the manner in which one should seek to address human rights breaches is not primarily through the instrument of aid. It may differ.

I am glad the Deputy has clarified the matter. We believe we must link the two concepts very strongly. I do not say this lightly because I am the Minister of State with responsibility for development and human rights and believe profoundly that there should be a link between what we fund and how we fund activities in the areas of governance, the fight against corruption and respect for human rights.

I have noted Deputy Allen's point that we are not and will not be propping up corrupt regimes or regimes which become serial human rights abusers. I did not wish to frighten Deputy Higgins by saying we were not afraid to take unpalatable or difficult decisions on aid when we saw a deterioration in circumstances. I believe I am the only Minister or Minister of State since the aid programme started who has provided for a significant reduction in the allocation to one of our programme countries. I did so last year and did not do so lightly.

We are prepared to do unpalatable things in Ethiopia should circumstances worsen. In the early 1990s we had to suspend and effectively cancel our entire aid programme in Sudan because the situation had descended into one in which we simply could not support or defend our further involvement in the country. We are prepared to consider such measures in the context of any programme country in which we see the government ignoring all the concerns and worries we might express. We have not yet reached that point in Ethiopia but we are not particularly impressed by what we have seen to date. There have been positive developments in that there are now only 1,500 detainees. There used to be 15,000 to 30,000 detainees. There are, therefore, some signs, however small, that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia is listening to the concerns articulated by Ireland and other donors.

There has been and is confusion, not only among committee members but among the public, over what represents government to government support. The distinction I and most of those involved in the donor world draw is between government to government support which is ring-fenced in certain areas such as health, education and the fight against AIDS and funding which we describe as direct budget support. The latter is far more flexible and its allocation is at the discretion of the Government.

In response to Deputy Higgins, I am not saying for one minute that we are somehow more virtuous than everybody else. In our programme for Ethiopia we had earmarked a sum of €5 million for 2006 and €7 million for 2007 to be spent on direct budget support measures. We decided as a result of the difficulties and issues thrown up by the election and its aftermath not to go down that route. We have decided we will not be spending these sums. This mirrors the actions of other donors. Despite claims to the contrary by at least one NGO in Ireland, international donors are not cutting aid allocations to Ethiopia but redirecting them into safer, more ring-fenced budget lines. This is remarkably similar to the action we have taken in our aid programme.

Reference was made to the social support mechanism which, at the latest count, kept 7 million people from starvation in Ethiopia. This funding mechanism is run by the United Nations Development Programme, in the design of which Ireland played a leading role. The United Kingdom, through my opposite number Hilary Benn, is actively considering this programme which we championed and designed for that particular purpose. It is seeking to redirect funding to this mechanism.

There are four countries in which we are very much involved in providing direct budget support. These are Vietnam, Tanzania, Mozambique and Timor Leste, to which we have allocated €3 million, €10 million, €6 million and €2 million, respectively. Direct Government support to Tanzania and Mozambique is higher because we have a higher level of trust in the evolution of the governments in those countries along a proper democratic road. For instance, in Mozambique, President Chissano chose not to run for a third term but to hand over and have a democratic election. Similarly, developments of that kind have occurred to date in Tanzania.

Involvement in direct budget support is not a decision of principle, rather it is made on pragmatic grounds where we can say a country is progressing to the stage where we can trust its government with funding that will support its exchequer generally and it is not ring-fenced. Clearly that happens in only a small number of countries. Ethiopia was regarded in development terms as a star pupil up to these elections because of its remarkable achievements in terms of poverty alleviation and the improvement in school enrolment. The recent election and the disregard of human rights has forced all donors, including Ireland, to reassess their position and involvement with Ethiopia. The level of aid is organically linked to respect for human rights. That linkage will be made more explicit and stronger in the forthcoming White Paper to be published in July. The taxpayer, and not only the members opposite, are rightly raising the effectiveness of our aid programme as a matter of public controversy.

I hope I have answered most of the questions, but I will deal with supplementary questions. We are prepared to be robust in the way we deal with countries. It is fair to say that some of my officials may not have liked the robustness of my approach to the Ethiopian chargé d’affaires when he visited my office twice last year. I am prepared to be robust because the public expects the taxpayer’s money to be spent well. In response to Deputy Allen, the public does not expect the Government to fund autocrats, dictators or those who abuse human rights. If the worst comes to the worst, we will end our involvement with countries where we see the trajectory toward democratic norms going into reverse.

The Minister of State is sending out mixed signals, he is trying to give the impression that he will stop aid to Ethiopia if conditions get worse. He is giving confusing messages.

According to the Deputy, but I think I have been very clear.

I think everybody is confused. In the light of today's presentation, where the Minister of State referred to discussion with the chargé d’affaires from the Ethiopian Government and the fact that Ireland gives no direct budget support to Ethiopia, what steps has he taken as a result of his concerns about the political problems in Ethiopia since the election?

I indicated in the script that as a part of a small representative group of donors, Ireland is working on a formal analysis of the political and economic context for future development assistance in Ethiopia. Only a small number of countries, including Ireland, are leading that assessment, which I hope will be published at the end of February. That will influence the behaviour, attitude and outlook of all the donor countries contributing to that joint donor assessment. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, I have spoken to the chargé d’affaires on two occasions. We also decided not to go down the road to budget support and that is a direct outcome from the election and its aftermath.

As the Deputy will see, a series of planned measures have been taken. The decision not to go down the road of direct budget support is an important signal to the Ethiopian Government. That does not mean we have reduced the scale of our involvement, as we are not cutting back on support for the people or for the country, but we are preventing the Ethiopian Government from accessing direct government support which it could spend in its own particular way. Our representative in Ethiopia, Mr. Dan Sexton, has been part of the EU heads of mission, diplomatic démarches with the Prime Minister to whom they have spoken directly. I have communicated my lack of approval of what was happening directly to the Ethiopian Government. We will await the conclusions of the joint assessment and the outcome of the trials of the 131 civil society human rights activists which will begin on 23 February. How we act will depend on whether the trial is seen to be conducted properly as opposed to a show trial, as depicted by the opposition.

We are prepared to make hard decisions, if the situation deteriorates further. I am not for a moment suggesting that I will shrink——

Is the Minister of State stating that he will discontinue the Irish aid programme to Ethiopia if he is not happy with the outcome of the trial of the opposition leaders?

I am not saying that.

It is important that the committee be kept informed of the Minister of State's analysis of the situation. The consensus of the committee is that the ultimate decision to withdraw funding from one of Ireland's priority countries, that is Ethiopia, in whatever circumstances would have such drastic consequences for human life that it is not the decision of the Government of the day but of the Oireachtas.

It is the decision of Government and the Minister of the day to decide where Government aid is going. There is no requirement to report to Parliament, but clearly I would like to discuss it with the committee before embarking on such a course of action.

I am slightly confused also. Will the Minister of State give me specific figures on direct and-or general budget support for this year and last year?

Was the figure zero this year?

Was the figure zero last year?

As was mentioned earlier, Self Help Development International pointed out that it ended in 2004. It was a small percentage between the years 2002 to 2004. There was none in 2005 and none this year. There will be none the following year.

In regard to my other question, the Minister of State states that there is no general or direct budget support but aid is delivered through sectoral Ministries and local government. Is that correct?

Is that not direct government support?

Clearly, the Deputy defines it as government support. It is a question of definition. We do not define it as direct government support because the money that is spent — the Deputy has the figures in front of him — the €4 million spent on education, the €5 million on health and €1.5 million spent on HIV-AIDS, which comes to a round total of €10.5 million is spent in Ministries but it is not spent at the absolute discretion of those Ministers. They come up with plans, we have a country plan and ultimately we decide on the manner in which the money is spent.

Is the money ring-fenced?

It is ring-fenced to certain outcomes.

Are there mechanisms in place to ensure the ring-fenced money is spent where it is allocated?

Yes, that is why we monitor the programme heavily.

I wish to make——

I am sorry Deputy, I have two other questions.

On the European front, what communications has the Minister of State had with the European Union in regard to the Parliament's decision of 15 December 2005 on a resolution setting out certain measures that should be taken? What steps have he and his ministerial colleagues taken to carry out the wishes of the European Parliament as set out in that resolution? Will the matter of Ethiopia be raised at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers?

I suspect it will. We would be anxious that it be raised because we believe there needs to be further discussion about the situation there precisely because it is so finely balanced. I apologise if, as people say, I have emitted mixed signals. I literally do not know what will be the outcome of the situation in Ethiopia. I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell members that matters there will improve and that we will provide it with assistance from here to eternity. However, the reality is that we do not know how the government will respond. To give some small credit to the Ethiopian Government, there were many more political prisoners in jail at the time of and following the election than is the case today. I can only presume that these people are being released because of the combined pressure being brought to bear by European and non-European donors. Indeed, President Meles Zenawi, regardless of whether one regards it as sincere, has apologised for the actions of his police force with regard to the elections. That, apparently, was a step in a particular direction.

On the European donors, I stated earlier that I have been in constant contact with my European colleagues regarding their assistance to Ethiopia and have focused my co-ordination and consultation with other donor Ministers involved there, namely, those representing Norway, Holland, the UK and Sweden, all of whom are of the same mind as members that this matter should be raised at European level.

What has happened in regard to the parts of the resolution that call for an independent inquiry? Is the Minister of State following up on that matter?

Are the Minister and the Minister of State's colleagues following up on that part of the resolution?

Yes. We want an international inquiry and we want international observers at the trial of the 131 civil society activists and MPs. A key demand of the European authorities and all the donors involved in Ethiopia is that there be an international dimension to all commissions of inquiry, investigations and trials in light of the enormity of human rights abuses to date.

There are many matters which need to be clarified. There appears to be agreement — I have spoken to the Minister of State about this — that we cannot simply end aid to Ethiopia without consequences. I understood the point which the Minister was evolving to be that the aid which goes to the poorest of the poor would remain intact and that a small proportion of Irish aid would be used as leverage. If I am wrong, the Minister of State should say so. The reality is that withdrawing aid from Ethiopia simpliciter would result in the consequences which members — including those who have experience of projects on the ground — of this committee have indicated. We can be absolutely sure of that. Such a decision would not only be unpalatable, it would also be unacceptable to every member and, I understand, also the Minister of State. If a portion of Irish aid is being withheld as leverage, that is a different issue.

Reference has continually been made to the community of donors within the European Union. In responding to the Ethiopian situation, there is a wide variation between the response of the different donors for many reasons. There is no point suggesting that there is a single European Union position on this because there is not. There are several different agendas in respect of the response to Ethiopia. I believe in the development of Africa and in human rights. Of all the donors involved in Ethiopia, only two have signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, namely, Belgium and France, although Belgium has very little presence in Ethiopia. Only two members of the European Union have ratified that convention. I am not sure if Ireland has yet done so or is planning to do so. Before we get up on the high moral ground and give lectures to everybody in Africa, it would be useful to turn the scrutiny on ourselves. This committee will address issues of corruption later on in its work programme.

As a matter of interest, I am informed that discussions on that matter are under way and will be concluded within the next month or two.

No one looks forward to its conclusion more than I. However, I wish it a speedier journey than the optional protocol against torture which will never be signed due to the opposition of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

We must be clear about what we are saying. The committee is stating that it understands the distinction between diplomacy in general and the aid programme in particular. If one wants to know wherein the difference between us lies, some of us have argued that if one decides to make one's aid programme conditional then one should debate that and state how one's conditionalities can be arrived at. Many of the countries represented at the Council of Ministers are in favour of conditionalities in their aid programmes to achieve regime change. I am sure Ireland would like to distance itself from that. The Minister of State should not misconstrue my approach in respect of human rights because I suggested that the African Union be constricted in regard to human rights. The election of Sudan to the Presidency will create immense difficulties in respect of Darfur and other areas. I am uncomfortable about people examining human rights issues in Africa or elsewhere through the prism of the aid programme. It upsets those of us who have been involved in this area for a long time. The Minister of State should clarify the position. He says that we will use the proportion of the transfer that is discretionary as leverage but he needs to assure members that he will not interfere with the programme, which assists in areas such as medicine, primary school education and other projects. It is essential that the Minister of State clarify the position.

In the context of Deputy Michael D. Higgins's remarks, according to a briefing about details of action taken by donors — this is from the embassy in Addis Ababa — five of the countries — namely, the UK, Sweden, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands — that have suspended their direct aid are members of the European Union. In light of what is being suggested here, is the Minister of State reasonably confident that he can achieve a consensus on the way forward because of Ireland's strong role?

Although it is somewhat redundant now, a detailed note relating to the elections infers that the irregularities in the counting process, coupled with the unfortunate leak of an internal interim EU-EOM report speculating — without conclusive proof — that the opposition might have won the election, led to a confident opposition refusing to accept any outcome other than victory. I understand that Irish parliamentarians contributed to the EU-EOM report. Did the Minister of State undertake an investigation as to how the interim report had reached that conclusion? I am not suggesting that the Minister of State should engage in a "West Wing" type investigation to discover how it was leaked. I am curious to know, because there was an Irish dimension to this, whether there was any response in that regard. It seems extraordinary that everything was going reasonably well, on the face of it, until this report fuelled the flames.

That emerged as a result of a leak from an inadvertent and incorrect conclusion on some of the early figures. Members will be aware of the position from elections here. In Addis Ababa, the opposition took most of the vote and someone ran with a story on that basis to say that it would win.

I do not disagree. With respect, the Chairman is on a parallel line. There was an official, internal, interim report that came to a particular conclusion without proof. I agree with the Chairman that the report was leaked but I did not ask the Minister of State about that. While I am merely curious and do not wish to make an issue of it, I would like to know if there was an Irish dimension to this, from the Department's perspective, and if it was investigated.

The Irish delegation was part of the EU monitoring mission. When one works with the EU mission, one works to it rather than to the Irish Minister. The EU has not issued its recommendations or conclusions on the election. The Senator is quite correct in his narrative account of what occurred. An inadvertent leak or leak of some form occurred from the report of Representative Gomez's mission and resulted in considerable instability and concern in Ethiopia. It seemed to indicate that early poll results could be translated to the rest of the country to provide an impression that electoral rigging was occurring wholesale rather than simply in the localised example cited in the report. The leak appears to be one of the reasons opposition groupings and parties were so quick to move to protest mode as they felt the election was being stolen from them almost as soon as it had occurred. The Senator is right to say that did not help.

I do not mean to put the Minister of State on the spot.

The Senator did not do so. His narrative account is correct.

The issue of direct budget support was raised but it is something in which we do not engage lightly in any country. There is a link between direct budget support and our view of the direction in which a country is evolving. Our decision not to advance budget support in Ethiopia was a direct consequence of the results of the election and explains why the money pencilled in for the period 2005-07 will not now be available. As Deputy O'Donnell said, there will not be a loss to the country and the poor will not suffer as a result.

To answer the moral and philosophical question posed by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, the only criterion we apply in our aid programme is that we focus on the poorest of the poor. We try to avoid actions, precipitous or otherwise, which injure the central and core founding mission of the Irish aid programme to alleviate the distress of the very poor. The ending or discontinuing of our involvement in Ethiopia would only occur in conditions similar to those in the Sudan in the early 1990s under which a programme becomes unworkable due to the government constituting a malign force which systematically denies rights to its citizens to the point at which we could no longer operate in the country. The rest of the donor community has been confronted with the same issues in Zimbabwe, where the Irish government to government aid programme was discontinued on foot of the enormity of the human rights challenge being posed. That challenge made it impossible to work directly with the authorities there. While the aid programme ended, we continue our interventions in Zimbabwe through our support for the World Food Programme and humanitarian projects led largely by non-governmental organisations. The importance of NGOs to our aid programme is demonstrated in their carrying out work the Government cannot do in countries that are highly distressed.

I accept the point Deputy Michael D. Higgins made about the Sudan and the need to strengthen the institutions of the African Union. The Sudanese Government has indicated that it will not take up the option to assume the chairmanship of the body, thereby posing the moral and political dilemma of which the Deputy spoke.

As an interim measure.

While that may be the case, for practical purposes the Sudan will not take up its chair.

Senator Mooney referred to the five donors that have decided not to adopt a direct budget support. I spoke to Ministers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands, though not to the Italian Minister. In fairness to the Dutch, the Netherlands has never been involved in direct budget support in Ethiopia as a result of its reservations, even prior to the election, about the quality of governance in and the government of that country.

I suppose the Berlusconi Government would know what constitutes good governance.

As they said on a popular television show, "You might comment but I couldn't possibly".

I thank the Minister of State for attending. The committee would like to emphasise that members' visits to Ethiopia demonstrated that Irish work there was excellent. The auditing and review of moneys was first class, regular and continuous. It is difficult to understand what people mean when they speak globally but when one considers the detailed work on the ground, one finds it is especially well marshalled by the Department's chargé d’affaires and Development Cooperation Ireland. Our work on the ground was very productive and constructive.

It is important to recognise that the 1995 elections in Ethiopia were very unsatisfactory. The elections in 2000 were not as unsatisfactory. As the elections in 2005 were the best elections Ethiopia has conducted to date, there was great hope in them. The subsequent overreaction related to approximately 30 cases. The Irish observers saw no problems in the areas in which they operated, although the regions involved were vast. It was almost to be expected that there would be some problems, particularly as 546 seats were being contested. The observers were very satisfied with the way the election was run in general but the interim report, which was produced in a very short time, gave a false impression and led to a great deal of trouble. It did not come from any of our Irish observers.

Despite recent political instability following last year's elections, Ireland's programme of aid to Ethiopia is reaching the poorest and most at risk people who would otherwise have no source of support. The Ethiopian aid programme is being well managed and properly audited by Development Cooperation Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs and delivers value for money across a range of projects. The work on water management and farm production in the Tigré province was very much envied in other provinces which became something of a problem. DCI was obliged to explain that it was a pilot project and, as such, could be extended. However, the work was in water management and farm production. The vast majority of these people are dependent on very small-scale farming and horticulture.

Given the political instability in Ethiopia, the committee obviously recognises that the situation requires monitoring. However, we feel it is necessary to work with the government and parliament there, including both government and opposition members. This means that dialogue is urgently required for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Ireland should be involved in the dialogue as we have a very good reputation in Ethiopia. We have been doing good work there and have good relationships generally. While it can do a certain amount through the European Union, Ireland must do some important work in its own right, a point which has been made by some of the members.

A question was asked about setting benchmarks and about being realistic in that regard. The European Union stated in a report as recently as 2 February that specific benchmarks have been identified by the EU against which political progress in Ethiopia can be gauged in the coming months. If they are not readily available to the Minister of State, perhaps they can be supplied to the committee so that members can consider them. What the EU is doing is very relevant in that sense. We need benchmarks and a pathway to peaceful development and good parliamentary development. There are questions regarding what is happening on the parliamentary side at this stage.

We have had two excellent contributions today, which have increased our understanding of what is happening. We look forward to next week's meeting with Trócaire and Concern. Assuming that John O'Shea will be available at that stage, GOAL will also be involved.

I thank the Minister of State and his staff for attending. We should not lose sight of the excellent work done through DCI on the ground. We should not get confused by what is reported in the media from time to time. We have always been practical and had a presence on the ground. Our missionaries have been there through thick and thin. In that sense, while we will listen to the other contributors next week, the general feeling is that there should be no withdrawal from the excellent work in which we are involved but that further political dialogue is needed to try to find a resolution to the conflict.

I will forward the EU benchmarks for the information of the committee. These centre on human rights, respect for law, democratisation programmes and the opening of a dialogue with the opposition. Deputy O'Donnell referred to consultation with the committee. I would be delighted if the committee were to make its own assessment and visit Ethiopia in the coming months to help to inform our decisions regarding the problem. It is important that members, as parliamentarians who have expressed opinions in this area, would travel to Ethiopia to establish for themselves whether they believe matters there are moving in the right or wrong direction or staying the same. I would very much welcome a report from the committee.

It would be a question of budget.

The Department would certainly be willing to fund it——

I thank the Minister of State for the clarification.

——if that is what the committee regards as important.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins is to be congratulated for raising the point. We came to a standstill late last year and no money to fund foreign trips.

We would have no difficulty funding that visit. The committee is free to make any comments it likes.

That point was made by the delegation from Self Help Development International, which came before us earlier. It is important to encourage the resolution of the conflict on a parliament-to-parliament basis, particularly in a situation of this nature. The Minister of State may be aware that I visited Ethiopia a week ago. However, that was on a separate matter and the World Bank paid for my visit. I was only passing through on the way to Rwanda.

I again thank the Minister of State for the information he provided and for taking the time to discuss the matter today. I thank all the members who remained until the end of the meeting.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 February 2006.