Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Tuesday, 10 Oct 2006

White Paper on Irish Aid: Ministerial Presentation.

The next item is a discussion with the Minister of State at the Department Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the recently published White Paper on Irish Aid. I welcome the Minister of State to the meeting. The Minister of State is accompanied by Mr. Ronan Murphy, director general of Irish Aid, and Mr. Rory Coveney from Irish Aid.

The Government's White Paper on Irish Aid is a landmark event in the history of Ireland's development co-operation programme. It has been widely welcomed by all in the Irish development community. Press coverage of the contents of the White Paper has been uniformly positive. Since its launch, members of this committee have brought the White Paper to the attention of fellow parliamentarians in Europe where it has been widely welcomed.

At the EU conference of chairpersons of foreign affairs and development committees which I attended in Helsinki recently, I intervened to draw the conference's attention to the White Paper and I ensured that copies of it were distributed to delegates at the conference, who included the chairpersons from the 25 member states and those of four other countries. They were interested in it and particularly pleased with the layout and how everything was expressed so clearly. I was accompanied by Senator Kitt, chairman of the sub-committee on development aid, who also made a contribution at the meeting.

Last week at a joint committee meeting of the European Parliament on development policies in Brussels Deputy Michael D. Higgins spoke about the launch of the White Paper. We have been spreading the Minister of State's good news in all the important places. I invite the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to make his presentation.

I am grateful for the opportunity presented to me today. Quite a number of members of the joint committee travelled to see the work Irish Aid is doing in developing countries. They have seen at first hand the context within which we implement Irish Aid policies.

Irish Aid has always enjoyed a close working relationship with the Oireachtas. The White Paper commits us to developing this relationship even further. Parliaments all over the world hold a vital position in the coalition fighting poverty. The Irish public need to know that their Parliament is keeping a vigilant eye on how money is being spent. I am keen that this committee and the committees of the Houses would become more vigilant as this programme expands in line with our commitment to reach the 0.7% target by 2012. It is unique that a member of the Executive attends a parliamentary committee asking for increased oversight. That increased oversight of the programme is vital as we go through this huge transition to spending €1.5 billion every year from 2012 onwards but also before 2012.

We need to look at the oversight mechanisms be they parliamentary, our own audit and evaluation committee or our own advisory board. In all three contexts I urge the members of those committees and advisory groups to look at how they can increase their scrutiny rather than decrease it or become more complacent. It is in this spirit that we invite the committee to rename itself the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid, reflecting the fact that the work of Irish Aid now has a much greater role within Ireland's overall foreign policy. The White Paper puts overseas development at the heart of our foreign policy. That is, perhaps, one of its most significant aspects. It is no longer a second citizen in what I would call the foreign policy world of Iveagh House and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Our aid programme has been rated as one of the most effective in the world and has received recent tributes from the OECD, the World Bank and most recently from the former US President Bill Clinton, during his visit here. Our influence over other international donors is strong and growing. The ten new member states of the European Union are sending delegations to Ireland on a weekly basis to learn how they can build a similar programme. We devise a mentoring programme for those states because they are beginning the journey we made 31 years ago when we first started to build a development programme.

In percentage terms, we are a generous donor and this will increase as we work towards reaching the UN's target of spending 0.7% of our GNP on official aid. Internationally, we will never be the biggest volume contributor but increasingly where we commit our share of money, others are following. Our influence and our moral voice are what give us influence in this area. It is not so much the volume of money we commit but the fact that we are a good percentage donor in terms of our overall GDP and also because our aid is untied and sustainable. It is of a high quality rather than a large quantity.

We took a lead in advocating 100% debt relief for the least developed countries, becoming the first Government of a developed country to do so. That is not often pointed out. It was Ireland that started the roll which culminated last year in the Make Poverty History campaign and the campaign for debt relief for struggling countries in Africa and elsewhere.

This year, Ireland has committed €59 million for multilateral debt relief through the World Bank. That funding comes not through the Department of Foreign Affairs but through the Department of Finance. While charting the future of the Irish Aid programme, the White Paper reflects and builds on the values and attitudes of Irish people towards those in need. It confirms the successful practices and principles of the programme to date. Virtually half the content of the White Paper reaffirms best practice. We felt it was important that the best practice be put in a formal statement of Government policy with the full agreement of the Cabinet. That gives it an added significance that it is not temporary or ad hoc policy making from now on. A permanent road map has been devised as to how we will roll out and expand the aid programme in the future. At a practical level it will provide certainty and a road map for the careful expansion of the programme. Our overarching objectives remain reducing poverty and assisting the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world. Africa will remain the principal geographical focus for our programme and Malawi will become the ninth priority country for Irish Aid. Our intention is to expand in the medium term to a maximum of ten programme countries from our current eight, six in sub-Saharan Africa and two in Asia. The expansion will come in Africa as the two we have in Asia are sufficient for the moment.

The White Paper also brings new ideas to the table such as the establishment of a rapid response initiative to enable Ireland to respond more effectively to sudden onset emergency. This initiative includes pre-positioning and transporting humanitarian supplies and drawing up a roster of skilled individuals from the public and private sectors, including the Defence Forces, for deployment at short notice to emergencies. On Friday of this week, I will sign an agreement with the executive director of the World Food Programme, Mr. Jim Morris, to put in place the first logistical structures for this initiative. We have been praised internationally for the speed at which we allocate and spend money. Many other countries pledge money in crises but do not follow up and disburse it in the time of need. However, we have a good reputation in this regard. This initiative is directed at giving a more practical edge to our contribution in emergencies. It is interesting that in the two years since I became a Minister of State, we have increased our emergency and recovery budget from €20 million to €60 million, which provides a graphic demonstration of how the programme has expanded in terms of the amount of money we can dedicate to it.

A dedicated unit for conflict analysis and resolution is being established in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ireland will forge a distinctive role in conflict prevention and resolution and peace building, drawing on our experience and knowledge of these areas from our peace process. We will establish a hunger task force to examine the contribution Ireland can make to tackling the root causes of food insecurity, particularly in Africa. This task force will be more international in its composition. Those appointed to it will be people — from Ireland and from outside — with international experience who can provide a much more value added contribution to what Ireland does as a donor on the international stage and to how we develop our bilateral aid programme in the context of looking at rural livelihood and supporting people in Africa. This area has long been a source of neglect in the international donor world where the fact that 80% of Africans live in rural settings has been neglected over the past ten to 15 years. We intend to take an initiative, through the hunger task force, that will redress the balance.

The Department of Foreign Affairs will work to ensure coherence and a joined-up approach to development across all areas. A new governance unit will be established within Irish Aid to ensure that our aid gets to where it is most needed and that no moneys are diverted from this cause. The unit will work to ensure that Irish Aid resources are always used for the public good and work to combat corruption across all areas of developing societies.

We aim to expand the existing corps of Irish development volunteers serving throughout the developing world. Recognising the commitment of many Irish people to development issues and the need to grow broader public awareness, we will shortly open an Irish Aid information and volunteering centre in Dublin. The centre will make more and better information available to the public about volunteering opportunities for individuals, institutions and communities. There is an incredible wealth of skills among the Irish public that can benefit development projects around the world.

As the programme grows, we realise more than ever that our expansion cannot be in isolation. We cannot continue to expand without the broader public being involved. We also want to share the skills and capacity we have acquired by dint of our transition from relative poverty, high unemployment and mass emigration to the successful society we now have. For the first time in our history, we have skills and capacities that can benefit our partner countries.

We value immensely the partnerships that Irish Aid has developed to date, for example, partnerships with Irish institutions such as the Oireachtas, with recipient and like-minded governments, NGOs, schools, foundations, the private sector and, most importantly, our relationship with the people of Ireland. The White Paper recognises that public awareness and support are critical to the success of the Irish Aid programme. While communicating the challenges that the developing world faces, we must also present the success of our projects. As Minister of State with responsibility for Irish Aid, I will continue to work hard to ensure that more people are made aware of the important work we do on their behalf.

I am grateful to the Oireachtas for its role in highlighting development issues and encouraging greater interest. The launch of the White Paper is not the end of something but the beginning of something more ambitious than ever before. There is much to be done to implement all the recommendations within the document and I sincerely hope that this committee will play its part. It is the beginning of the most historic expansion in the history of the programme and this poses its own challenges at every level.

The programme must be made more relevant and understandable to the public. This is an area of public policy which enjoys cross-party support but it should not be forgotten that while the policy-making groups and elites and the people who parse and analyse what we do are fully cognisant of this project, the wider public is not as aware of what we are doing and we need to involve them more as the programme is expanded.

I thank the Minister of State for his very informative presentation. I congratulate him and his staff on this important and much-lauded development in Irish Aid. This is Ireland's first White Paper on development co-operation. It provides clear guidelines for concentrated actions to tackle the root causes of global poverty in partnership with governments and NGOs, non-governmental organisations in developing countries. A White Paper means that these are Government proposals rather than general discussion subjects and this is a welcome step. By meeting the 0.7% target figure in 2012, Ireland will be spending some €1.5 billion annually on overseas aid. The rapid growth of the Irish economy has enabled Ireland to provide substantial resources to assisting some of the poorest people in the world. In 2006, Ireland will spend more than €730 million in assistance to developing countries, compared with just €142 million in 1996. This reflects both the commitment of this joint committee and of the Minister and the Government and the development of Ireland's wealth in the interim.

The committee has noted with interest the invitation to the Oireachtas contained in the White Paper that this joint committee should be replaced by a new committee with the title of Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid. I believe the members of the committee will welcome this change in title but not necessarily the replacement. I believe members will welcome this recommendation as such a change would reflect the fact that Ireland's development aid programme has become a central feature of Ireland's foreign policy. With the joint committee's consent, we will explore this matter further with a view to obtaining Oireachtas approval for changing the name at the earliest possible time. This can be discussed afterwards as an individual item.

I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on the point about the propositioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies and the drawing up of a roster of skilled individuals from the public and private sectors, including the Defence Forces, for deployment at short notice in emergency situations. He stated that later this week he will sign an agreement with the executive director of the world food programme to put in place the first logistical structures for this initiative. It would be interesting to hear more about his plans in that area as he is moving fast on this issue which is of importance to both the committee and the public in general and must be clearly explained and understood.

I thank the Minister of State for his clear presentation on the White Paper. Like many others, I welcome its publication and support all its targets. I have a number of questions for the Minister of State. He spoke about a hunger task force. I have reservations that there is very little reference to food security and production. There are aspirations without details of how he intends to implement the objective. While he spoke about a hunger task force that will report within six months of being established, that is as far as it goes. I ask him to give more detail about food and water security, or insecurity as it is termed.

On food security, talking to people who have more experience than I have on disease eradication and AIDS prevention, the point made to me is that much of the money allocated to those programmes is spent on provision of food and water for communities and that there is no point going down the road of disease prevention without dealing with the basic body issues first. I would like the Minister of State to give more detail on what is referred to in the White Paper.

At the outset the Minister of State said he would like greater oversight and that he welcomed greater examination of the effectiveness of his budget. Taking into consideration that it will more than double in real terms between now and 2012, how does he react to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which stated that spending from 2003 and 2004 still remains to be audited, and that 52% of the money spent in Zimbabwe and 26% of the money spent in Ethiopia in 2003 has not been audited? In calling for greater oversight the Comptroller and Auditor General referred to staff shortages in the Department in dealing with examination of the effectiveness of the spending of the budget and how well the budget is being targeted. How can the Minister of State reconcile his call for greater oversight when the Comptroller and Auditor General refers to difficulties in the Department?

On the decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick and the fears among non-governmental organisations about the potential loss of institutional memory of Irish Aid because of the loss of staff, this has been the subject of many questions in the Dáil including some from me. What progress has occurred on the decentralisation programme? How many of the specialist and semi-specialist staff of Irish Aid have transferred to Limerick? What measures are being taken to protect the very important institutional memory of Irish Aid which is vital to ensure that the taxpayers' money will be invested in a focused and effective way with full accountability? Having asked those questions, I welcome the White Paper.

I wish to come back later on one other issue.

I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. I thank the Department for the White Paper, which makes a very valuable contribution to this debate. I will make a point allied to that made by Deputy Allen, but perhaps I will come from a different angle. If we are to, as I hope we will, contribute €1.5 billion to overseas aid, which we all welcome, there is a need for an increased public awareness campaign, which the Minister of State has started, and also for closer monitoring and evaluation of how the money is spent.

I concur with the Chairman in welcoming the proposal to change the name of this committee to "the committee on foreign affairs and Irish Aid" but could the committee in its current form adequately perform both roles? Our agenda is so wide that, if we devote a considerable part of our time to discussions on Irish Aid, there will be insufficient time to deal with other matters, such as the Middle East, nuclear disarmament, international relations and the abuse of human rights. We will need to think afresh about how we can address all these issues. Senator Kitt has done great work as a member of the Sub-Committee on Development Co-operation, of which I am also a member, but it does not appear that we would have the time or, perhaps, the expertise to monitor that level of expenditure with the thoroughness it deserves. That is an issue to be addressed by the members of this committee rather than by the Minister.

With regard to budget accountability, the White Paper does not seem to emphasise the assessment and evaluation of expenditure. I would like to see in-depth research carried out on whether our money has made a difference in our partner countries. Is it the case that we are firefighting rather than ending the cycle of poverty in Africa? I support the retention of our traditional focus on Africa but I also make a plea for greater attention to Latin America, a continent which is sometimes forgotten.

As the Minister of State will be aware, a major public education programme is needed to explain to the Irish people why €1.5 billion of their money is being spent every year. We do not want people to say the money could be spent in Ireland because, while it only represents 0.7% of our total budget, it represents a lot in monetary terms. In-depth research and extensive public education will be required to assure the public that the money is being well spent.

The proposed change to the committee's name is intended to ensure development aid remains mainstreamed, an issue we will discuss later. While we may need to improve the way we go about doing that, it should be possible to continue to use the Sub-Committee on Development Co-operation to that end. Difficulties arise in terms of finding rooms and bringing people together for meetings, given that the committee meets quite regularly.

With regard to spending, the Deputy will be aware of the report compiled by the committee on reaching Ireland's aid targets. The Minister of State's officials might update that report with the information it has received from the Department of Finance to indicate clearly the size of the contribution, that is, how small it is in relation to the extra money that is coming into the Exchequer. We keep saying we would like more money for health, social welfare and other areas but if there is growth, there will be a considerable amount of additional money for them, as we showed in our report. However, we need to convey this message to the people. Having said that, the Government made €20 million available in the aftermath of the tsunami. Internationally, that was a high figure on a per capita basis. The people contributed €80 million. Time and again they have been ahead of everybody else in what they believe is important. The points the Deputy made are important in ensuring the money is well spent. This may mean that more members should travel to Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda and other places, as some of us have done, to see how well the money is being spent, managed and checked.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Government's White Paper. I wish to stress a number of positive points before moving on to others which perhaps could have been covered in greater depth in the White Paper.

The White Paper is important. We have been waiting for it for a while and it has been published in the last 12 months of the term of the Government. Therefore, it is important for and presents a challenge to all parties heading towards the general election in terms of their commitment to overseas development aid. It is important to remember that those who stress the achievement of the figure of 0.7% by 2012 do not regard that as the end point. Many of the Scandinavian countries have already passed the figure of 1%. Four countries have achieved a figure of 0.7%: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg. The performance of the European Union is regularly compared with that of Ireland in so far as its achievement of a figure of 0.7% by 2015 is looking extremely unlikely. This is a point to which I will return. I pay tribute to the Government for having real figures. It is on track to achieving a figure of 0.7% by 2012. The figure currently stands at 0.41%. If one qualifies the Irish figures by way of what is spent strictly outside development, one would probably remove two tranches of €700,000 but that would not change the percentage of 0.41%.

I very much support the five principles outlined in the précis to the report. I also very much welcome the level of aid provided. I agree with the Minister of State and others who have said untied aid is best. I also very much agree with the new partners we have chosen in regard to Malawi. While I am on that subject, there is a footnote on an important issue which will arise. There are more doctors from Malawi working in the United Kingdom than in Malawi. That raises an issue in regard to health infrastructure in the countries with which we will have a relationship.

On some of the other issues raised, the publications section of the Department of Foreign Affairs deserves credit for the beautiful dividing coloured pages between the ten sections. However, concentrating on the 90 pages of text, a number of issues are striking. There is a very weak reference to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is on the Government's list of proposed legislation for 2007 but there is no indication it will be passed in its lifetime. The heads are not ready. On several occasions I have tabled questions to the Taoiseach and various Ministers. I need not go into in detail but the Chairman made reference to my attendance at the meeting in Brussels last Wednesday when I paid tribute, as I have just done, to the White Paper for those positive elements but I suggested the fact that only one European Union country had ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption seriously eroded the European Union's credibility in giving lectures on corruption.

There is very little in the White Paper on the concept of good governance. Several foreign affairs committees of member states of the European Union have addressed this matter. The issue is simple. Are we speaking about good governance in terms of transparency, the transfer of capital investment, for example, according to the concept used by the World Bank, or are we talking about good governance in terms of the methods of decision-making, participation or arriving at decisions on development that might be rooted in people's own experience? The White Paper falls into the trap of imagining that history began in the post-1960s period. On the concept of good governance, it makes reference to these concepts not yet having arrived. I warn against suggestions that good governance can be imposed from outside. I question the notion that there is a scholarship that suggested it was okay for Africa to be looked at through the lens of British anthropologists and seen as a collection of exotic peoples in the 19th century but now when we need anthropology to elicit mechanisms of decision-making that have been in place for thousands of years, cultural arrangements in terms of consultation and participation, the assumption that Africa has no history is a nonsense. That is wrong.

I am issuing a straightforward warning that we need a discourse on what is meant by good governance. If people want it, good discussion documents on the concept should be available to those who prepared the White Paper. For example, it is the subject of a special volume issued by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden. If one wants to compare the White Paper, it should be compared with the Norwegian White Paper, the most complete in addressing issues such as the incorporation of human rights in development. The Norwegian consideration of that issue stops short of giving in but is the best attempt at including human rights in the development discourse. After 23 years of silence in Norway, the human rights discourse was launched nationally and included issues affecting the disabled. It was an attempt to move the discourse towards the area of international development.

The Swedish White Paper is very instructive on the issue. Using good governance as a simple term without it being teased out as to what is meant by it is extremely dangerous. It will be abused in the same way the concept of sustainable development was abused by some of the worst polluters on the planet, including oil companies which regard themselves as lead environmentalists.

It is a pity that the big development issues staring us in the face internationally did not receive more attention in, for example, the rights section. Does the Minister of State agree there is a universal right to water? Where would we stand in regard to the same French multinational selling water to black people in Los Angeles, South Africa and a number of Asian countries? There is enough clean water on the planet to meet all our needs but its distribution and ownership is the single biggest issue in international development but it is not discussed in the White Paper. Similarly, there is no reference to the work of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations or its conference and no discussion on the right to be free from hunger, a major proposal that emanted from the UN discussion. The context of the White Paper is one of 800 million people starving, 1 billion people living without clean water, 2 billion without sanitation, 2 million dying of AIDS and so on. We might have expected these themes and issues in the White Paper, but I am listing the others for the sake of time. This is one of our rare opportunities to list the issues.

I agree with previous speakers regarding technology. The White Paper does not discuss the technology transfer matter, which is an issue of the first moment. If the application of technology to agricultural production generates food security and local surpluses that lead to regional surpluses, giving the possibility of regional commerce, where do we stand in respect of the critique made by the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries of the EPAs that are being negotiated between the European Union and different regional representatives? These issues are too important to overlook.

I have made many negative remarks, but I want to say something regarding what I meant about the Irish figures being real and the EU not achieving its 0.7% target by 2015 in any truthful way. The latter's figures are being rigged. Included in several countries' 0.7% figures are what they spend on foreign students, assisting refugees and debt relief. These comprise 52% of Austria's 0.7% reported figure, 32% of Germany's, 31% of the United Kingdom's, 29% of Italy's and 19% of France's. Some of the strongest economies in the EU are counting three items that have nothing to do with development directly as part of their 0.7% achievements. Some of the figures are interesting upon examination of their proportions. For example, Iraqi and Nigerian debt cancellation makes up 52% of the Austrian figure in 2005. The figures are unreal, but I will pay tribute to the Irish figure. If one adjusts it and takes off €1.4 million at gross, 0.41% would still remain, which is an important point to make. I would have welcomed the rest of it.

The EU's discourse suggests that the days of pledged and lodged money but unspent funds are over. This is nonsense and is untrue. During the preparations for the White Paper, there was a long set of discussions that led with what was called the declaration of Ministers in December 2005, which is one of the weakest statements ever issued in the area of development. I refer to the statement of the EU's Heads of State and Government under the authorship of Commissioner Louis Michel. It is a very mild document that fails to integrate accurately the connection between aid, trade and debt. Some 1% of trade lost to Africa is seven times the entire aid figure for a particular year.

There is reference in the report to talks with other Ministries, but there is not much reference to what one might call a whole-of-Government approach, that is, when moving towards any of the eight world millennium development goals, one should test Departments regularly and ask where agriculture, trade, enterprise and so forth fit in. This approach is missing.

There is little reference to something that is missing from all European papers on this matter and is a significant flaw in Scandinavian White Papers, that is, the enormous contradiction in the spread of armaments to countries and regions that are recipients of aid. There is a welcome reference in the White Paper to the scandal of child soldiers and so forth.

I will end with a specific question. Last year, the Minister of State opened a conference in Trinity College at which he gave the opening paper. He had Professor Bjorn Lomborg and other such people speaking about the Copenhagen Consensus which ranked particular priorities, etc. While I would like to know where the Minister of State stands on that, there are particular problems associated with ethnic and disadvantaged communities within national boundaries, and the issue of how one really begins to approach that problem is not really discussed. For example, it has been suggested — I am not in a position to contradict this or say it is true — that the dire shortages of water and regular starvation of the 3.5 million Somalis who live in the Ogaden Desert within Ethiopia are manipulated by the Government which has responsibility for them. That is what I mean by intra-borders and difficulties that arise, and these are real issues.

I am in favour of a development approach that has an entirely different discourse. It has been the experience for decades that multinationals, governments and even the headquarters of non-governmental organisations are comfortable speaking to the representative elites in the capitals of different countries. The significant transition that could take place should be based on food security, creation of local surpluses and regional markets. I refer to genuine regional markets, not artificial regional markets imposed by the European Union.

I make these points by way of being constructive. As I have said, I acknowledge what has been achieved but I also feel impelled to note what is not being discussed.

I welcome the statement of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. The Chairman mentioned a figure of €730 million for 2006. What was the figure for 1996?

The figure was €142 million.

It shows the large increase in the overseas development aid budget and, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins stated, we look forward to 2012 and beyond to see further increases.

Deputy Mulcahy made a good point on the naming of the committee, which I welcome.

I forgot to state that the United Kingdom went much further by putting development into a Ministry separate altogether from foreign affairs, and perhaps that is a proposal we should consider at the same time.

I am sure the Minister of State would agree with that.

As the Chairman will be aware, when in Finland we spoke to the Minister for Trade and Development. The Finnish had those two parts of Departments together as well, which is a matter we should examine.

The sub-committee, which I chair and on which sit a number of the members present, deals regularly with the excellent work of NGOs. When people speak of corruption in certain countries in Africa, there has never been a case of that of which I am aware with NGOs. We have good people there.

We also should remember smaller groups, or perhaps even individuals, who do much good work. The Minister of State has probably much correspondence in his Department from such individuals or groups who do excellent work, especially in Africa, and I would like to see that work recognised. A number of people have come in to the sub-committee about it.

In that regard, there is not much reference in the White Paper to the welfare of our missionaries, whether lay or religious. I raised this issue with the Minister of State previously. The sub-committee is dealing with the Department of Social and Family Affairs on social welfare entitlements, for example, and I am disappointed by the response. The Minister of State might consider whether something can be done in that regard, obviously under the Irish aid budget. There are many instances of missionaries returning to Ireland, whether owing to illness, to the need to care for someone or to returning on retirement, who encounter great difficulty in accessing those particular entitlements. The Chairman will agree they have great difficulty in accessing those entitlements, particularly if they retire in the place they have worked all their lives such as Africa. I do not know how that will be dealt with if Irish Aid does not come up with a solution. The Department of Social and Family Affairs will say they are living outside the country and it has no scheme to cover them. Sooner or later, a solution must be provided regarding what will be done for lay and religious missionaries. The White Paper is excellent and it will give us a great opportunity, particularly at sub-committee level, to address many issues relating to people in less well-off parts of the world.

I welcome the Minister of State's very clear and cogent contribution. How firm is the Government's commitment to 0.7% of GDP for overseas development aid? I welcome very much Deputy Michael D. Higgins's analysis, which indicates Ireland's contribution is real, and the public should be made aware of this point. It is something of which we can be proud.

The Minister of State made a number of positive comments. However, I would like to know how firm the Government's commitment is for a number of reasons. Some years ago in the Seanad, the then Leader, who is not connected to the Minister of State, gave a commitment, which was not lived up to and, under questioning from Senator O'Toole, the Leader stated it was not an absolute commitment. How absolute is the Government's commitment, given that there will be a general election and it is by no means certain that this Administration will survive or that the current Minister will be in the position in 12 months? I recall the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, making an impassioned speech to the committee suggesting that the commitment should be built in on a statutory basis. I forget the precise mechanism by which this was to be done but it has not been done and, therefore, we need to know how firm this commitment is.

The Minister of State said that although substantial sums are being made available and we have a healthy economy, which is small on the world scale, in gross terms our contribution is not as large as those of larger economies. However, he indicated that because of the wiseness and judicious nature of our choices and the way in which our investment is monitored, other states have tended to follow us. I do not expect him to have this information at his fingertips but he might make it available. It would be useful for the purposes of debate in the Houses if examples could be cited where aid was pioneered in an area by Ireland and subsequently, Denmark, Sweden or another state followed. Such examples would be useful and it would strengthen our argument if we had them.

I very much like and welcome the idea of conflict resolution and analysis. Even humble specimens such as myself are often asked whether any lessons can be drawn from the Irish experience in Africa and elsewhere and it would be useful, in light of our experience, if perhaps we could contribute to bringing more harmony to the planet.

I refer to the hunger task force and the situation in Darfur. I have received a number of communications in this regard and, before the Minister of State arrived, I asked the Chairman if the committee could examine this matter. The issue will be examined at the next meeting. Darfur seriously needs examining and I wonder what contribution Ireland has made. I was absolutely horrified and I cry "shame" on those countries that gave monetary commitments to Darfur but have not lived up to them. That is utterly shameful. My colleague, Senator Leyden, uses the wonderful phrase, "name and shame", in the Seanad sometimes. These countries should be named and shamed. It is absolutely disgraceful that people go out in public and say they are going to be generous and do not live up to that. How dare they? We need to know who they are.

Underlying many of these problems is the question of population control. The rate of increase in population levels on the planet is appalling and terrifying. This is the key problem that underlies conflict. One has only to consider Dr. Skinner's experiment with rats to understand the kind of behaviour the human species is exhibiting, which is not unrelated to his experiments. Deputy Higgins referred to water resources which are also a contributory factor, as are conflict, pollution and the destruction of the environment. What else can be expected when the population has doubled in the last 40 years? To use a buzzword, it is not sustainable.

I am sorry that I mistakenly called Deputy Michael D. Higgins a Senator because certain columnists have invented a new animal called Senator Michael D. Norris. I am extremely flattered to be genetically joined with the Deputy who referred to the idea of a separate Ministry which would be worth considering. I was surprised that there seemed to be a certain tictac between the Minister of State and the Chairman, given that this idea was contained in both the Minister of State's speech and the Chairman's remarks. I had not heard of this proposal and do not believe any other committee member has heard of it either; therefore, to a certain extent, it has been bounced onto us but that may be no harm as it should be discussed.

Deputy Mulcahy is correct in the sense that if the committee takes on or pretends to take on very large operations, it may distort our other work. If we intend to do this, we need to write it clearly into the terms of reference because it should not just be a cosmetic exercise.

Deputy Allen referred to decentralisation to Limerick. Coincidentally, I heard people comment on this issue on the wireless yesterday. Radio journalists seem apprehensive with regard to the ease with which one can get interviews. For example, people visiting the Department in Limerick — it is as easy to stop off at Shannon Airport as Dublin Airport — may miss out on media exposure when coming to Ireland to discuss matters with it. As this point appears to be causing great hilarity to the Minister of State, I may well have shown my naïveté again.

The Senator should not fear for the media.

That does not bother me in the slightest. Whether the Minister of State has a good or even crushing answer, I will be happy to listen to it.

Given the Senator's forensic analysis, I will clarify the position. I confess there was a connection between the Minister of State and me in the sense that we had both read the report.

How unusual. I commend the Chairman.

I will not go over the ground covered by my colleagues but compliment the Minister of State on a comprehensive and well thought out paper. It is obvious that not everything that everybody would want is included. The paper focuses on key areas that are important for us as a nation and committee. I am taken by the proposal to establish a unit for conflict analysis and resolution. While we are perhaps inclined to overplay our hand about what experience we in Ireland have of conflict management and resolution, as a small country with an engagement and much credibility in African countries in particular, we can do much in standing back from and analysing some of the serious conflicts such as those in Darfur and Sierra Leone.

The committee visited Ethiopia earlier this year and attempted to mediate to resolve the political difficulties being experienced at the time, some of which persist. If there was some backup from the Department to help initiatives taken by this committee and others, it would be worthwhile building on this. It will be recalled that the committee visited Uganda in the past two years, where members met some of the mediators who had been working to try to resolve the conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan army. We made some useful contacts and produced a report, but that is as far as it went. It was left to others to try to resolve that. Ireland needs to support the African Union a good deal more. It was established with much goodwill, although a large amount of resources were not allocated to it. It has potential because the principle of subsidiarity ought to apply in Africa as well as here and elsewhere in Europe. Ideally, decisions should be taken at the most effective level and it is something towards which we could work.

As regards the hunger task force, we have seen some of the initiatives that have been undertaken successfully in Ethiopia, especially in the Tigre area. Initiatives such as that could be replicated with the support of experts in Irish Aid and in the Department.

The governance unit could potentially be the most useful unit of the Department, short of the long-term development initiatives which it undertakes. Deputy Michael D. Higgins spoke about the issue of corruption. Clearly, it does not take a genius to spot a great deal of corruption, some of which is low level while some is patently and seriously disruptive in developing countries. In any of the countries we have visited one would have reservations about some of the activities at parliamentary or other elected levels. We could work seriously to put together a unit that might be a public accounts committee of sorts for our programme countries. Our own auditing systems work well but this matter has a great deal of potential.

My final comment concerns an issue about which I have been talking a great deal since joining this committee a number of years ago. I see it mentioned in the White Paper as well. It is the focus on the promotion of primary education. As a country we should aim to get as near as we can to universal primary education in the programme countries. It is a shame that we are not able to do so. While we have all seen schools in Uganda and elsewhere with crowded classrooms — sometimes with up to 110 pupils — very often the educational curriculum materials are not in place. We could usefully work on bringing about further developments in that area, possibly by using teacher training colleges in this country as well as our own curriculum assessment unit, which is highly respected worldwide, to promote greater participation in first level education. If we do not do that, any other initiatives aimed at eliminating AIDS or controlling population will only go so far and will be of limited value.

I welcome the White Paper and do not have any searching questions that have not already been asked. It is an important template for the future.

The issue of primary education is one in which we are involved through various elements. A more co-ordinated and driven approach might be a good take-off point at this stage.

Like nearly everybody, in principle I welcome the White Paper. I want to choose my words carefully because I know that Deputy Michael D. Higgins was somewhat critical of some areas. Overall, however, it is a landmark decision by the Government to have issued a White Paper in this area. There is tremendous public enthusiasm for foreign aid. Given that television and radio now have so many competing areas in which to convey the news of the day to the general public, it was instructive that RTE not only referred to the decision by the Government, communicated by the Minister of State, to allocate €1 million to the Pakistani disaster fund, but also covered the item in considerable detail, including broadcasting an interview with the Minister. I point this out because with so many competing interests it is instructive that the news media would consider a story such as this to be important, despite the fact that the sum of money in question was relatively small. The widespread reporting of the allocation of the money and the fact that Ireland was making a public contribution demonstrates how important overseas aid is in the Irish psyche. In that context, the publication of the White Paper is welcome. I hope the general public, who responded enthusiastically to the public meetings held throughout the country, will read the document.

I welcome the addition of Malawi in Ireland's overseas aid programme and appreciate that the main focus of our overseas aid is on Africa. However, I am concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip and the West Bank and ask the Minister of State to clarify the position in that regard. I understand that money is being channelled by Ireland through UNRA. Why can we not have direct bilateral aid arrangements similar to those in place with African countries?

My understanding is that the money is channelled through UNRA.

No, we give direct bilateral assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

I would be grateful if the Minister of State would explain, in his general reply, how the money is transferred, for what purposes and how much it amounts to. It would also be helpful to know the current percentage of GDP spent on overseas development aid as various figures have been bandied about. Funding has increased recently and I would be grateful if the Minister of State could tell us the exact percentage.

The proposal to establish a volunteer corps is an excellent one. We are all aware of the wonderful work being done by young skilled professionals, particularly in Africa. Such people are in their early or mid-twenties, attending universities, medical schools or teacher training colleges and spend two or three weeks of their summer holidays in the various recipient countries, doing invaluable work. On a recent visit to Zambia I was overwhelmed by the contribution that such young people make. I am glad the White Paper acknowledges their contribution and that the Department has plans to set up a volunteer corps. Many committee members will be familiar with the peace corps in the United States of America, which President Kennedy introduced and which was embraced enthusiastically by young Americans. From the perspective of public relations and user friendliness, perhaps the Department could come up with a sexier title than volunteer corps, an alternative name that young people would readily relate to. Volunteer corps sounds somewhat stodgy. The Americans were very deliberate in giving the peace corps its name because it embraced many concepts.

Deputy Carey referred to the conflict resolution centre and I agree with his remarks in that regard. I enthusiastically support this concept because in recent years I have had the privilege of representing this country on the Council of Europe, where I have become more aware of the manner in which non-aligned countries, particularly those in Scandinavia, have dominated this area. The most recent example of this is that the newly appointed human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe is a Swede. The Swedish and Norwegians have a near monopoly in this area in almost all of the international organisations. The Norwegians are involved in peace resolution in Sri Lanka, the Swedes are involved in Iraq and so forth. In fact, Mr. Halliday was here recently to discuss the latter process.

In the past ten or 15 years Ireland has established itself as a country which deals well with peace issues and strongly defends against human rights violations. That is as it should be for an unaligned country. I would like to see Ireland become involved with other like-minded countries in the United Nations and other international organisations in establishing a bloc of votes, as at the end of the day appointments are dependent on votes. I have made inquiries and it is not an accident that the Swedes and Norwegians are appointed to various positions. They obtain such appointments because they work hard at it and lobby assiduously. They have built a very strong voting bloc within the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other international organisations. Ireland should now begin to actively lobby to ensure Irish nationals are appointed to lead international peace initiatives. Why should there not be an Irish person in such a position? This is not to reflect negatively on the Swedes and Norwegians who are simply far ahead of us. However, we deal with matters of peacemaking well and should exploit our skills and unique expertise. We should call on our international friends, call in favours and point out that we have skilled individuals who can do the job of peacemaker and human rights defender. This would help the country's image immeasurably.

The Minister of State referred to the involvement of the Defence Forces in the rapid response initiative which he stated "includes the pre-positioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies and the drawing up of a roster of skilled individuals from the public and private sectors, including from the Defence Forces, for deployment at short notice to emergency situations". I applaud this proposal. I have often wondered why we have had to rely, logistically, on other countries for arms and military hardware. Why can an Irish ship not sail up the Zambezi River or into Sierra Leone's Freetown harbour, proudly flying the Irish tricolour, to distribute aid? Perhaps the Minister of State will be told that the Department of Defence has other priorities, that such operations would be very costly and that it is much easier to rent, for example, Dutch vessels, as we did recently in Liberia. However, I suggest we should have our own flag flying when going into countries to provide assistance at enormous cost to the taxpayer. Such a development would be a reflection of the Irish enthusiasm for overseas aid at both State and private level.

I thank the Chairman and welcome the Minister of State and his colleagues from the Department. I commend the Minister of State on the publication of the first White Paper dealing directly with overseas aid policy. I also commend the Minister of State, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach for realising the target of 0.7% of GNP. I know his appointment was a baptism of fire for the Minister of State because it was unclear at the time whether we would or could honour the commitment made by the Taoiseach. That debate is now history, as it is clear we will honour the commitment, which amounts to €170 for every man, woman and child in the country. This is a considerable contribution for a country of Ireland's size. Does the Department have an estimate of the amount contributed by the voluntary sector?

I welcome the rapid response initiative and commend the work being done in Palestine by the Department and the Minister of State who has shown tremendous commitment to the region, particularly in supporting the Palestinian office in Dublin which is very important in maintaining contact between Palestine and the Republic of Ireland.

I commend the development of organisations which are spending time and energy abroad. In that context, is the re-establishment of APSO a possibility? I never understood why it was removed. I worked with it in Bosnia-Herzegovina and found it to be excellent. As a non-governmental organisation attached to the Department, it would be an ideal vehicle through which to organise voluntarism abroad.

Many organisations have attained great expertise. Staff from one of them, the Irish Wheelchair Association, recently established Power4Good which is linked to POWER International. Under the chairmanship of Councillor Molly Buckley who is also chairperson of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Power4Good will work in Zambia to protect the human rights of those with disabilities, using the expertise of volunteers from this and other sectors. I welcome this initiative and I am confident that the Minister of State, his Department and Irish Aid will assist those involved in every way possible to realise their objectives. I am sure members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence volunteers would be delighted to have the opportunity to work abroad in emergency situations.

I commend the Minister of State for recognising the work of his predecessors in the Department. He has been generous in his media comments in acknowledging that those who served there did their utmost for the developing world. He carries on that fine tradition. The publication of a White Paper is important because it allows us to see where we are going and to establish and fund our priorities.

While attending a recent meeting of the Interparliamentary Union in Kenya, I had an opportunity to see at first hand the impact of the €7 million in aid provided by the Minister of State for the drought-torn northern territories. This assistance is recognised and appreciated by the Kenyan Government, as was the work of the Irish Red Cross as supported by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. David Andrews. The current efforts are appreciated by those they are assisting in practical ways via the distribution of food and support to the affected regions. When one sees this work at first hand, one is proud that we are honouring our commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid. I am confident that we will continue this work in an organised and balanced way. Ireland's position is so well recognised because it was never a colonial power; we are more acceptable than most in developing countries.

I do not except the Minister of State to respond to every detail of the points members have made.

I do not want to be too exhaustive because I am aware members may wish to ask supplementary questions. The Chairman asked about the rapid response initiative. On Friday I will meet the executive director of the World Food Programme, Mr. Jim Morris, when we will sign a formal memorandum of understanding on how we will roll out the initiative. This is the first instalment of the initiative which will, in effect, have two phases, the first of which involves organising the materials that will be used in a humanitarian crisis. These will be non-perishable items and located principally in the Italian port town of Brindisi where the World Food Programme has a major early deployment centre from which it co-ordinates its response to a humanitarian emergency. In conjunction with this, non-perishable items will also be stored at the Curragh military camp in County Kildare.

This initiative is particularly concerned with the provision of water sanitation equipment and materials to provide shelter. The early deployment about which we are talking would cover a village with a population of 20,000. In other words, the items we will physically store in these depots in Brindisi and the Curragh will be sufficient to provide food, water and shelter for 20,000 people immediately. One might look at the context of the St. Stephen's Day tsunami and the recent earthquake in Pakistan. We would be able to cater for those 20,000 people very quickly with our equipment. In the emergency rapid response initiative, we are anxious to provide a physical as well as a monetary response. We have been highly praised internationally for the latter, and not only because we make pledges. In the area of emergency response, we have a tradition of honouring such pledges and moving to disbursement very quickly.

What about the 0.7% figure?

That is the purpose of that initiative, which is focused on Brindisi and the Curragh camp. The majority of the material will be stored at the former site. That is the opening part of our response, but the rapid response initiative will develop further. We would like to be able to see ourselves giving more support in time, but that is the first plank.

The second part is the compilation of a register of skilled individuals available in Ireland who might usefully be deployed in such situations as the tsunami or the earthquake that hit Pakistan. We were very much struck when we visited Pakistan in the aftermath of the earthquake that UN logistics made a specific appeal to us as an international organisation at the very heart of crisis response. It had a very specific need for civil engineers with road-building experience. That experience is available in many local authority areas in Ireland — I believe it is available in 28 authorities.

It is now up to us to compile such a register of skilled people and see if we can deploy them in the field. We are most anxious to do that in a professional manner rather than by adopting a scatter-gun approach whereby people are sent in without the requisite training. We will be incurring the cost of picking people from the register and training them so they can be deployed. Obviously, one cannot simply pluck someone from a public or private sector organisation at the drop of a hat. There must be a training input, and we will be working with UN logistics and in the Department on doing so. That is the first stage of rapid response.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of a heavy lifting capability, which is obviously an area in which the whole of Europe, not just Ireland, is deficient. We have been approached by the Department of Defence, which made specific proposals on heavy lifting. We want to be careful in moving to a practical solution, since it would be expensive. We would have to consider leasing or purchasing heavy lifting capability. There is no point in our having it if we cannot deploy it in a purposeful manner when a crisis occurs.

I take on board Senator Mooney's suggestion regarding boats and the like. It may be the case that we can co-ordinate or collaborate with other donors of a similar size to Ireland, allowing a combined response. A donor larger than us in volume terms, the Netherlands, deployed a full military hospital in Pakistan after the earthquake. As we do not have that capability, we must look carefully at what we can do already in this country and maximise it. Down the line, we will be able to consider heavy lifting if it does not involve wasting money. It is important to remember that other donors have taken the rapid response route before. An assessment of one country that tried to create an emergency response was that the cost per life saved was €26 million. We must be careful not to get into very expensive commitments regarding such matters as heavy lifting, or purchasing equipment which is not used throughout the year and which is only necessary at certain times. We are very conscious of the need to deliver value for money.

The theme of value for money has run through several of today's questions. We took part in an evaluation of our tsunami response, the report of which has been published. We also appointed an envoy to examine, analyse and, where possible, criticise our response, highlighting where it was good and where it was deficient. The OECD, in overarching terms, acts as a regulator or overseer of what we do in the area of development. We have been highly praised for the value for money and quality of our assistance. That is beyond doubt in terms of the Irish Aid contribution.

On an internal matter, many members referred to the audit committee. We have a strong audit committee and are strengthening it further. We are grateful to the Comptroller and Auditor General for his comments. Deputy Allen was very seized of this issue. This was the first time in our aid programme's 31 year history that the Comptroller and Auditor General turned his attention specifically to it. We very much welcome that and hope that there will be more scrutiny of the programme. We have taken on board many of the issues he raised in terms of staffing. I am proud for the first time to relay to the committee that in the Estimates campaign last year we secured from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, approval for the recruitment of an additional 20 staff, all of whom will work on the evaluation and audit of the programme. Of the 20 additional staff approved, we have recruited 12 and the balance have yet to be recruited.

A mid-term review of the programme, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will take place on the ongoing staffing needs of Irish Aid as it expands between now and 2012. This is a significant and serious issue. Our immediate needs in terms of the audit and evaluation of the programme have I hope been satisfied, and I am strengthening that side of the operation. We need to focus on the level of staff resources that will be needed as the programme expands up to 2012. That will be a huge exercise and we will require a large number of extra staff. It is not sustainable for the programme currently or five years' hence to be managed with the existing staff resources. That is not possible and we must examine carefully how we will manage it.

We also need to examine how dynamic our partnerships will be, what kinds of organisations we will partner and the extent to which we can push activity outside the organisation — in other words, the level of spending that can be undertaken outside the organisation, which is just as effective as spending within the organisation.

Deputy Allen raised the issue of the hunger task force and asked if it would include the issue of food production. I do not want people to get the wrong idea about the role of this task force. Given its title, people tend to view it in terms of famine prevention, but at its most basic level it is about how we can improve the basic food production ability of countries in Africa to sustain and feed themselves. There is a huge amount of work to be done in this area. As I said, it has been neglected by international donors over a period of 20 years. Therefore, it will take considerable scrutiny, study and leadership on our part to bring donors back around to spending in a practical way that will enhance the capacity of countries to feed themselves and create regional markets for food within Africa. We are anxious to do that.

Deputy Allen raised three issues, one of which was the issue of the hunger task force, which I hope I have addressed. If the Deputy has further questions on it, I will be pleased to respond to them. He also raised the issues of the oversight of the programme by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the staff shortages, which I have also addressed.

The decentralisation issue is a pressing one. I have answered that issue in the Dáil on a number of occasions, but for clarity it is important to give members the latest figures. A total of 47 staff in Irish Aid intend to decentralise to Limerick, which means that 38% of the staff requirement will be based in Limerick. By the end of the year we expect 50% of the posts in Limerick to be filled. I am proud to be able to announce for the first time to this committee that by May next year we intend to send an early deployment of senior and support staff to Limerick to prepare for the full transfer of the final posts. In other words, by May next year we will deploy to Limerick 25 staff to prepare the ground for the full transfer of staff there. That will be done before the building is ready.

We expect the building we secured in Limerick will be ready by September next year. The idea behind the early deployment of 25 senior and support staff is to prepare the ground for the full transfer of staff to Limerick and to address the kinds of issues Deputy Allen raised about loss of corporate memory. These staff will ensure that there is a continuity of the work pending the full transfer of staff to Limerick. We are anxious to proceed with that process.

I have outlined to Deputy Allen by way of replies to parliamentary questions, the exercises involved. We have a long hand-over period for staff, three months in the case of senior staff transferring to Irish Aid with a view to moving to Limerick. Also there has been a data collection exercise in terms of capturing the information and defining the jobs people perform within Irish Aid so that people coming in and the organisation itself has a full understanding of what tasks are done within the Department. Deputy Mulcahy raised the issue——

My question specifically related to senior specialist staff and specialist staff.

As the Deputy knows that issue is tied up with the ongoing broader Civil Service debate between the Department of Finance and the relevant unions on the status of the specialist or technical grades in the context of decentralisation. We are at an advanced stage of pushing that matter. My Department has recently submitted a position paper to the Minister for Finance on what we believe should be done to facilitate our transfer to Limerick. Simply put, there needs to be some interim measure whereby we can retain specialists in Dublin while we attempt to roll out the specialists and locate all of them in Limerick. We recognise the need for some type of interim measure to deal with these specialists because——

Is the Minister of State saying there will be two locations?

In the interim before moving all staff, including specialist staff, to Limerick or to the decentralised location there may have to be an interim solution whereby people who are either not moving to Limerick or intend moving to Limerick at a later date can be accommodated.

Is that the case as of now for the proper senior specialists?

There are very few senior specialists but among the middle to lower ranked specialists there is a significant number coming in from the institutions. I will come back to the Deputy when I get the figures. I quoted figures in the Dáil and I want to keep to them.

I thought the director might know the figures.

The director will know the figures. I invite the director to respond.

Mr. Ronan Murphy

Most of the development specialists have withdrawn their interest in going to Limerick for the time being pending the outcome of the discussions. There are four development specialists who are on the books with a Limerick tag, in other words, four people who have applied on the understanding that they will go to Limerick. On the other development specialists, the position is that they are awaiting the outcome of discussions that are ongoing with the Department of Finance.

Thank you.

We will come back with the specific numbers in a moment. Deputy Mulcahy raised the issue of the public awareness campaign and evaluation of expenditure. I have addressed those issues. Somebody mentioned that the evaluation and audit was not part of the White Paper. There is a strong statement in the White Paper on the idea that we would publish all external evaluations of the programme and public expenditure reviews. We have made a commitment in the context of the White Paper to publish those. Previously they have not been published. However, there should be a higher level of public awareness of spending reviews and evaluation of what we do.

Deputy Michael Higgins referred to a number of things and I do not know if I can respond to them all. Good governance is dealt with and is one of the key cornerstones of the White Paper. When the Taoiseach made the announcement in New York concerning our target of 0.7% for 2012 we made it clear there were four pillars that the expanded aid programme would look at particularly. These were food security, governance, aid and involvement of the private sector in the programmes of government.

The issue is not one of definition as to whether the Minister of State will seek to give it content in the different and more advanced usage.

I wished to deal precisely with that issue. The issue about definition is a good one because there is much confusion around the issue of governance. At an extreme level it is the fight against corruption but in the main, where we spend approximately €70 million every year in our different programme countries on governance, it is about capacity enhancement, improving the quality of government and administration in the countries in which we operate. This is probably the most positive and effective area of the governance agenda whereby we can strengthen parliamentary oversight and strengthen the role of the independent media in the countries where we operate. We know that a low level of accord is given to opposition parties within the context of many African democracies in which we operate.

There is an issue of strengthening the capacity, especially of Civil Service organisations, to handle large sums of money. For example, compare the evaluation of public expenditure here and that in the programme countries in which we operate where evaluation is virtually non-existent. The issue is to try to strengthen their ability to manage and oversee their public expenditure programme. We see it as a significant part of the governance agenda to improve the capacity and ability of our partner countries.

It is one end of the governance issue. The issue of village structures and decision making is the indigenous part.

That is correct. There are many different aspects. The issue is not open to easy solutions. I agree with the Deputy that people who impose what is previously a World Bank agenda are being somewhat naive. We cannot impose from outside values and attitudes in terms of governance. We need to adapt to local circumstances. I am tired pointing out to people in the development sphere who come with glib easy answers to the problems of Africa that we are talking about 52 countries that are all quite different. Even within countries there are differences. Zambia, for example, has 40 different ethnicities and languages. Africa does not, therefore, lend itself to easy interventions of one kind or another, especially in the area of governance.

We are determined that whatever we do in this area is given a focus and that is the reason we have created the governance unit. While we have spent €70 million to date, we want to find out what is effective and provide programme quality so that what we do is not haphazard, has an effect and is beneficial. At another level, the unit will also provide the public with certainty about our interventions. The public is sometimes not clear about why and how we are spending money so we need to give focus and clarity to what we are doing.

Senator Kitt raised the issue of smaller groups and individuals receiving funding from the aid programme. We reorganised the funding mechanism into a small, medium and large structure as we had much of an ad hoc development of funding structures for non-governmental organisations within the Department over the years. We now have three rather simple mechanisms that reflect the type of grant funding. This is working and we have seen a significant increase in the numbers applying. The small grouping provides for grants of €20,000 and less and the medium grouping for grants up to €160,000.

Some people asked about missionaries. We already spend a significant amount on missionaries and they are important in what we do. We fund the Irish Missionary Resource Service, the IMRS, to the tune of €50 million. We have spoken to that group and it is dealing separately with the Department of Social and Family Affairs on the issue of the welfare rights of returning missionaries. We ourselves have discussed the issue with the Department which has issues around creating additional benefits for people who work outside the State for a large part of their working life. The issue may not be soluble and Irish Aid cannot contribute to a significant extent. We can, by way of persuasion perhaps, hope to persuade people in the IMRS to address the issue of pension rights etc.

Senator Norris mentioned our firmness on the 0.7% development aid target. All I can say is that our commitment is firmer today than two years ago when I started in this role. A very rickety edifice existed up to the time I arrived in the Department. We had set ourselves a 2007 target which was clearly unobtainable as the increments had not been made to allow that happen. It would not have been desirable to try to reach the target by 2007 without plan and order. We are now working in a planned and orderly fashion towards the 2012 target. We are showing clearly through public spending milestones how we are going to achieve the target. Next year, 2007, we will reach 0.5%, in 2010 we will reach 0.6% and in 2012 we will reach 0.7%.

What is it currently?

We are currently ahead of target at 0.5%. While our target is for 0.5% next year, because of a once-off contribution of €59 million by the Minister for Finance for multilateral debt relief, which effectively rolled over 40 years of contributions in one bullet payment, we are ahead of our target. We had expected to be on 0.5% next year but it has been reached this year, but only by dint of this once-off contribution which we made to the multilateral debt write-off initiative.

Is it the case that we are on 0.5%?

We are on 0.5% this year.

Is this based on the European method of calculation?

The Minister of State said it was 0.5%, not 0.4%.

I have some questions for the Minister of State.

The Government's commitment is absolute. To give the members a sense of this matter from the internal point of view, I no longer have discussions on the Estimates with the Minister for Finance and this has been the case for the past two sets of Estimates. The reason is that the Department of Finance is now tracking percentages as opposed to volume cash increases. This is the reason we have reached the figure of 0.5% already.

Senator Norris queried the practical wisdom of the programme. I will give the Senator a practical example of how effective Irish Aid is and how other donors have copied us. I refer to the safety nets programme in Ethiopia which saves 6 million people from incipient famine or acute food shortage every year. This safety net arrangement has been copied by other donors and has become the model for preventing acute food shortage and incipient famine from affecting millions of people. It is a basic social welfare type of intervention which provides money to people so that they can support and feed themselves.

The committee's delegation had some influence on the use of this programme at the time. Complaints had been made in other regions that they were not receiving this aid. We explained that these were pilot studies. We spoke to the Prime Minister and he followed up by extending the programme throughout the country. Deputy Carey referred to this.

We support the African Union's NEPAD mechanism and are supportive of the regional organisations and bodies in Africa. They are the key to the futurefor Africa to create regional markets and a regional presence not unlike what happened in Europe.

On the proposal for a public volunteer peace corps, I am not so keen on the idea of a peace corps as such because it is a 1960s model. However, we can be of assistance to the volunteer organisations. The Department provides a one stop shop for information on volunteering and regards itself as a facilitator for volunteering, supplying educational and information inputs and acting as a reference point for people wishing to volunteer with organisations already in place. We regard ourselves as a provider of human resources to the volunteering industry and to those wishing to volunteer. This is a more progressive role for the Department as there are many dynamic volunteering organisations already in place. We do not see ourselves as recreating the Agency for Personal Services Overseas, APSO, which was an in-house service provider of volunteers. The only area in which we are a service provider of volunteers is in our sponsorship of the UN volunteer scheme. We hope to have our own internal volunteer scheme——

What was wrong with APSO?

The model had outlived its purpose and the decision was made by my predecessors. As Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, it is a matter of opinion whether APSO should still be in existence.

It became too independent for the likes of the Minister of State's colleagues in the Department.

I am still not clear as to the reason it was got rid of but there was a sense it was an organisation that had outlived its purpose, not unlike some of the training organisations which have undergone significant changes, such as the transition from AnCO to FÁS. Training and volunteering are more professional nowadays and the State acts more as a facilitator of private effort in this area. This is how the Department sees it developing.

The organisations themselves were very anxious to make that change.

Nobody ever wants to be abolished.

I call Deputy Dempsey followed by a final question from Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

I also have two brief supplementary questions.

On many occasions I have given the example of a Wexford hurler who wanted to give of his time voluntarily to the developing world and could not find where to go. Several past pupils of mine have asked how an engineer could help abroad. If that problem could be addressed I would be very happy.

I have a follow up to that question. I am referring to exactly what Deputy Dempsey has said. To a certain extent the Minister of State has gone in the opposite direction. I am somewhat disappointed that all he will do is establish a structure to facilitate. I would like the State to be proactive in co-ordinating all the volunteers in 50, 55 or 60 different organisations either individually or in groups. The State should do what the US did. I was not asking the Minister of State to resurrect the peace corps: I was only using it as an example of how we need a parallel organisation here. While I am not an expert on the peace corps, some of my relations were involved in the corps. I understand that university credits were given for the time spent overseas. I would like to see the Minister of State own volunteerism on behalf of the State. The people should have an identifiable logo or be part of an identifiable cohort signifying that they served overseas on behalf of Ireland serving the people of the Third World. Some lateral thinking is required.

I asked two questions to which the Minister of State has not replied. If he wishes he may reply in writing to the committee. I asked where he stood on the universality of a right to water.

I support that idea. Irish foreign policy has supported that for many years.

It is an issue which will arise. We can correspond on this issue. The Minister of State will be given an opportunity shortly of supporting a universal right to water. I gave the example of privatised supply of water versus universal need for water.

Just for clarity, we do not support privatisation of water in Africa or elsewhere.

I also asked where the Minister of State stood on the universal right to be free from hunger, which was the outcome of the Rome conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. When I referred to "whole of Government", I meant the involvement of other Departments like Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Agriculture and Food, etc. Does the Minister of State believe that genetically modified seed is being used in the African countries with which we have a relationship? Is the terminator technology being used regarding the creation of infertile seeds, which interferes with people's rights to sow crops for the new season? The Minister of State may respond to me in writing if he likes.

The next question is important in case I get cut off, which is——

The Minister of State can write to the committee.

That is what I meant.

It was not what the Deputy said, although he did say it earlier.

I apologise. It is important that the Minister of State writes to the Chairman and that we can all hear the answer. It is an absolute contradiction that members of this committee will have got information from communities in Africa, whose livelihoods have been wiped out by the activities of the Celtic Dawn hoovering the fish species out of the sea and assisted by the Government with grants and permissions following negotiations at European and national level. It is a scandalous contradiction of all the principles of the White Paper.

The Minister of State can consider that.

May I give a brief response?

When the Minister of State appeared before the committee previously, we asked this question. Now, after the publication of the White Paper, is it possible for the advisory committee on development to publish its advice in order to indicate its autonomy publicly?

We are very keen for it to show more autonomy because we do not believe its current level of oversight of the Department is appropriate, although I do not want to call it inappropriate, and the board as it currently stands does not have the necessary structure for supervising a much larger programme. There is a need for greater scrutiny and oversight by the advisory board as we expand our aid programme. We want the board to propose mechanisms in that regard and I believe it will come up with appropriate suggestions. I hope this committee will also develop its own hard-edged views on how it can scrutinise our work because I am not convinced that our informal meetings will be sufficient to meet the requirements of an expanding aid programme. We want to be challenged by this committee, the advisory board and the Department's audit and evaluation committee.

We are keen to develop programmes which give practical expression to the declaration made by the FAO in Rome with regard to food and water, and that is the reason for the establishment of the hunger task force. The task force will have a largely international composition because we want to bring an international focus to Irish Aid's programmes, as well as to provide global leadership on the issue.

We have a very good relationship with the Departments of Agriculture and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. A key objective of this White Paper is to expand that relationship to other Departments so that a joined-up approach is taken on development projects.

One of our programme countries, Zambia, is involved in the production of genetically modified food. The issue raised by the Deputy could also be one for the hunger task force to consider.

Complicated issues arise with regard to the Celtic Dawn fishing trawler. As I understand the matter, the Celtic Dawn was grant assisted by Ireland but largely operates in international waters.

It is wiping out the livelihoods of Mauritanian villagers and fishermen.

Perhaps the Minister of State will send us a note about the issue because an extensive debate may be required on it.

Mozambique, which is one of our partner countries, faces similar issues to those raised by Deputy Michael Higgins. The fishing industry in that country is dominated by fishing fleets from the Far East which scoop the fish from its waters. That is an important issue in terms of development and I will respond to it in as detailed a manner as possible.

On behalf of the joint committee, I thank the Minister of State, Mr. Brendan McMahon, Mr. Ronan Murphy and Mr. Rory Coveney. It has been a useful discussion and we would like to follow up on aspects of it.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.25 p.m. and adjourned at 4.40 p.m. sine die.