Overseas Development Aid: Discussion.

I welcome the members of the NGO community in Ireland who requested this meeting to discuss Ireland's overseas development aid budget. It is a particular pleasure to welcome back to the Houses of the Oireachtas Ms Helen Keogh, a former Member, in her capacity as chairperson of Dóchas, the umbrella representative group of Irish NGOs. I also welcome another former Member, Mr. Derek McDowell, who now works with Concern. This goes to show that most Deputies and Senators are concerned with the important things in life, despite all that is said about them. We are also joined by Mr. Justin Kilcullen, director of Trócaire; Mr. Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern and Ms Anne O'Mahony, Concern's country officer for Kenya.

Before we commence, I acknowledge the assistance of Ms Joanne McGarry of Trócaire, Ms Olive Towey of Concern and Hans Zomer, director of Dóchas, for their help in arranging this meeting. They are with us in the Visitors Gallery and are very welcome.

The joint committee is under no illusions about the current situation. Like every other facet of public expenditure, the overseas development aid budget has been cut recently and given the forthcoming budget in December, we understand the clear concerns expressed by NGOs about what could happen. The budget line which funds the long-term development work of civil society organisations and NGOs was reduced from the initial allocation in 2009 of €138 million to €110 million in April. With reference to the emergency and recovery budget line, a pre-approved allocation for NGOs set at €12.2 million at the beginning of 2009 has been safeguarded. Its disbursement is dependent on the receipt of appropriate submissions and to date €8.7 million has been disbursed. Of this amount, Dóchas members have received €5.5 million. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, has undertaken to protect civil society partners as much as possible in applying any of the cuts that will become necessary. Given the current climate, he has said it is impossible to exempt them completely. Following these cuts, however, the overall proportion of the budget going to civil society organisations for long-term development has increased from 18.4% to 19.3% of Vote 29, the Foreign Affairs Vote on overseas development aid.

The allocation promised to non-governmental organisations at the beginning of 2009 for humanitarian emergencies remained unchanged following the supplementary budget in April. Irish Aid has tried to protect the funding to key partners, including the multi-annual programmes, MAPS, the NGOs and members of Dóchas. A decision was taken to reduce NGO grants by 20% for long-term development in cases where they were receiving a multi-annual grant in excess of €500,000. In 2009, this has seen Concern receiving €20.8 million in MAPS funding, a 20% reduction on its 2008 allocation. Trócaire will receive €16 million in MAPS funding in 2009, a reduction of €4 million, or 20%, on its 2008 allocation of €20 million. NGO partners which receive less than €500,000 per annum did not have their funding cut. This decision was taken to help smaller organisations with limited resources which may not have access to other sources of funding to complete projects they have undertaken.

Dóchas is an example of one such organisation. Its annual grant of €250,000 was not reduced in 2009. Currently, there are 44 members in Dóchas, of which Irish Aid funds 39 through the civil society emergency or development education budget lines. Of these, 39 experienced a 20% reduction in pre-committed funding in 2009. NGOs, both independently and through Dóchas, have been consistently vocal on the impact these cuts will have on their work in delivering aid to the poorest of the poor. It is against this background that I invite the delegates to make their presentation.

Before we commence, I advise witnesses that whereas members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, especially with regard to references of a personal nature.

I now invite Ms Helen Keogh, chairperson of Dóchas, to address the committee, following which there will be questions from members. Mr. Tom Arnold will follow, introducing Ms Anne O'Mahony, and Mr. Justin Kilcullen will then speak.

Ms Helen Keogh

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to make this presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. As we know, the committee is seen as a very influential player with regard to overseas development and has played a very positive role in promoting understanding of, and interest in, the Irish Aid programme, the work of development NGOs represented here today and the missionary organisations. We appreciate that a lot and thank the committee for it.

As the Chairman said, present today are Mr. Justin Kilcullen, director of Trócaire, Mr. Tom Arnold, chief executive officer of Concern and Ms Anne O'Mahony, the country director of Concern in Kenya. I shall make some over-arching remarks but there are some issues to which we all wish to return regarding the practical implications of aid cuts.

In making these opening remarks, I refer to the fact that in 2000 Ireland publicly committed to meeting the target of spending 0.7% of national income on overseas aid. Since then our ODA programme has grown rapidly in both size and quality. Independent assessments by the Oireachtas, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the OECD have shown that our development co-operation programme is of the highest standard and benefits the poorest communities on earth in very tangible and positive ways. As representatives of organisations in the development aid sector we are part of this process and we can illustrate in many ways the practical impact of our work. I can offer two small examples. In Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, a water purification project which was funded by Irish Aid cut the incidence of cholera from 15,000 cases in 2006 to none in 2007. It was a remarkable impact in a very short space of time. My organisation, World Vision Ireland, has reduced the prevalence of malaria in one of our programme areas in Kenya from 24% to 5% in a period of just two years. In the same area we have virtually wiped out bilharzia, a horrible disease contracted by children from swimming or playing in dirty or contaminated water. These are tremendous steps forward for very poor communities.

I also wish to point out how much this aid benefits Ireland. The ODA programme has brought Ireland great recognition around the world and has increased its influence on the world stage. The aid is not a one-way street. It is also an investment in our future prosperity. By investing in the education, health and enterprise development programmes of developing countries we are creating future markets with which we can trade. Our investment in job creation helps lessen the pressure of migration and our promotion of sustainable development helps mitigate global climate change, the effects of which island nations such as Ireland will feel particularly strongly. One need only consider the lack of summer this year to realise this. In a globalised world countries cannot ignore the plight of others without risk to their own security and future development. This country might be an island but it is part of the world.

Overseas aid is our calling card to the world in many ways. It is a central cornerstone of the Government's strategy to combat the recession, to repair the damage to our international reputation that has arisen from the banking crisis. To millions of people our international reputation is built on our long-held commitment to the world's poorest people. Honouring our aid promises is the key to protecting that reputation. We fear that Ireland's international leadership role could evaporate if the Government chooses to break its long-standing commitment on overseas aid in the forthcoming budget. Cuts in aid are hitting poor people directly. Aid from Ireland is supporting programmes to provide access to basic services. In addition, our overseas aid supports people in finding lasting solutions to poverty.

I have already briefly referred to successful programmes in which Irish aid money is well spent. However, we have been faced with very difficult choices as a result of cutbacks already made and are faced with further heartbreaking choices. What would the committee do if confronted with these choices? World Vision Ireland is confronted with cutting access to health care for children in Sierra Leone, which is the poorest country in Africa. This will mean that children will not be immunised and, as a result, will probably die. We are faced with cutting the programme for HIV-AIDS orphans, which supports vocational training so they can escape continuing poverty, and stopping our female genital mutilation eradication programme, which has proven so successful. We made a presentation to the committee about it and received great support for it. We are endangering the lives of expectant mothers in Uganda by cutting their prenatal and post-natal care. These are only some of the many choices we face.

We must keep our aid promises, especially in hard times. Our pledges on overseas aid are a percentage of our national income. As the economy contracts our overseas aid shrinks automatically. However, the Government has gone beyond this built-in reduction measure and cut the 2009 aid budget by €222 million, or 24% of the total. It is cutting its aid budget because it wants to get out of the economic crisis by adjusting Government spending. Ironically, we have turned to our friends in Europe and the US to help us get out of the crisis but by cutting our overseas aid we are denying poor people the very support we are seeking abroad.

Ireland's overseas aid programme is at the very heart of its foreign policy. We have received overwhelming praise internationally for our aid programme, which provides us with influence and access on the global stage. Irish Aid is a direct expression of important national values of solidarity and justice. Our aid is a practical expression of a deep and lasting commitment that we have, as a nation, to fighting injustice, oppression and poverty. In light of the current crisis, that commitment is needed now more than ever.

Mr. Tom Arnold

I will be brief. I thank the Chairman for his introductory remarks, particularly in view of the fact that they contextualised this debate in an extremely useful manner in respect of some of the facts and figures involved. I wish to introduce to the committee Ms Anne O'Mahony, one of our long-standing country directors, who has worked in Africa and Asia and who has gained wonderful experience. She recently wrote an article forThe Irish Times which captured the choices she faced as a country director. Her experience reflects the difficult choices our directors in 28 countries face.

Ms Anne O’Mahony

The budget cuts have hit everyone to a large degree. I have been working in Kenya for the past couple of years and I have been working with Concern since 1982. In recent times I have been extremely proud of Ireland's position, particularly in the context of Irish Aid and the country's commitment to overseas development. This commitment has grown during the period in which I have been abroad. Various organisations which would not previously have considered approaching Ireland for aid have recently sought to woo it is in this regard. In addition, various UN bodies have come here on missions and visits.

Ireland has been seen as a leading light in recent years and it showed great leadership for the remainder of the international community. Much larger countries that have access to much greater resources looked to the leadership provided by Ireland. In these difficult times, that leadership is still required. It is important to hold on to what we had.

Concern in Kenya has had both its Irish Aid funding and its other income streams cut. It has, therefore, suffered a double whammy. To date, the organisation as a whole has let more than 500 staff go and is in the process of closing four country programmes and also programmes within our other countries of operation. We are taking steps to redirect and reprogramme our shrinking and limited resources.

The countries in which we operate are also being affected by this global economic crisis. As stated, I work in Kenya. In January, the Government of Kenya declared that approximately 10 million people are at risk of starvation during the current year. Since then, there has been a prolonged drought and there is little hope that those who can least afford to be without or purchase food will obtain increased access to it.

Other effects are also apparent. As a result of the global economic crisis, tourism, which is the cornerstone of Kenya's income, has been badly affected. In the better times, everyone tends to buy flowers. Recently, however, there has been a major downturn in the floriculture industry and this has had a major effect on Kenya. When one considers who is employed in the tourism, floriculture and horticulture industries, one becomes aware that it is the lower skilled people who suffer. For example, the flower pickers are laid off and those who live in the slums and who have limited access to income are the most affected. In turn, we also are obliged to consider cutting our budgets in the context of the support we can offer these people.

In recent years, the MAPS funding programme has been a tremendous support and of great value to Concern and other agencies. We have been able to develop long-term programmes and build relationships with our partners in various countries, particularly Kenya. If we have to make cutbacks, we will have to terminate some of these partnerships to which we had given a five-year commitment. For example, we work with an organisation called Lea Toto which is headed by an Irish nun. Its programme looks after children who have AIDS or are HIV-positive and the organisation has more than 3,000 on its books. They are supplied with anti-retroviral therapy and Lea Toto has the clinics to support them. It is supported by the US Government in this but high death rates were being experienced among the children suffering from HIV-AIDS. We came in and had a look at the nutrition aspect, which was not being covered. We started to provide high density food to help the children get back on their feet and to be able to absorb these powerful drugs. We are seeing good results but it will take a few years to collect the proper information to make the case for such children to be given high density calorific food as a long-term treatment and as part of the treatment package. However, if we stop this in mid-programme, we will lose a huge amount.

We can say exactly the same about our education programmes. We are on the cusp of great things because we have innovative programmes. This should be mid-term in our MAPS programmes and if we cut them at this stage, we will lose much more than we have gained in the past few years. That would result a huge loss in value and in what the Irish Aid programme and Concern want to achieve in these countries.

The timing of these cuts is all wrong. I heard a report on radio earlier this week about an increase in prostitution in Ireland but we are seeing that in the slums of Nairobi. Younger girls are going out night after night to earn enough to feed the rest of their families. We are seeing an increase in the number of children on the streets collecting money and on rubbish heaps and, linked to that, a withdrawal of children from school. Development targets and trends will be set back by many years if we cut programmes now. My appeal is to safeguard and protect the budget and to look at where Irish Aid is and honour that position as we go forward.

Mr. Justin Kilcullen

My tale is similar. This day two weeks ago I was sitting in a village in Cambodia not far from Phnom Penh. I was hearing about how the economy and employment had declined. The local industry, making baskets and selling them to the fishing industry, is in decline because there is no market. I asked how people were coping and I received a simple answer from the head man of the village. He said they are eating less. Most people have one meal a day rather than two. This is known as a coping mechanism in development circles. This jargon hides the basic human reality. However hard the recession is hitting us in Ireland, we have not reached the stage where people are saying they are eating less than they need to survive. That is the harsh reality. There are more than 1 billion hungry people in the world, which is almost one in six of the world's population, and that number is increasing as a result of the recession and other factors relating to the cost of food production.

That is the context in which we must examine our aid budget. Trócaire estimates that if there are no further cuts in the Irish Aid budget, we will be down €30 million on what we would have reasonably expected by way of agreement with Irish Aid over the next three years. We therefore have had to cut four country programmes from our overall work and to accelerate a reduction in programmes in five other countries. There are human stories behind those statistics. We are withdrawing from Angola, a country that has suffered massively from civil war, where communities are still struggling to rebuild their lives. We have been working with a group of 45,000 people, providing them with agricultural assistance and teaching best practice in terms of resistant crops and so on and were hoping to extend this work to surrounding villages and communities. However, this is all coming to an end.

In Angola we are helping people to overcome the stigma and discrimination and all of the other health-related issues associated with HIV, as referred to by Ms O'Mahony, and have had great success. People can now hold their heads up high and declare their HIV status. This helps to reduce the level of HIV in Angola where the incidence of HIV has doubled in the past two years. We are withdrawing from our work in this area which will leave people vulnerable.

The issue of corruption has exercised the mind of the committee on many occasions. I have attended previously and answered questions about whether we are giving money to corrupt governments and how we are dealing with this. In Zambia Trocaire works with Caritas in the diocese of Chipata. One of its major programmes deals with corruption and citizen education and teaches people about the local budget, how the district government distributes its budget, how one can access it and find out where the money is going. It educates people about their rights as voters to hold their local and national government to account. That programme is now finished. Its director, Fr. Richard Perry, has responded to our letter informing him about the withdrawal of funds. The Government of Zambia is aware that Caritas promotes justice and once we are silenced owing to inadequate or a lack of funding, the poor, our direct beneficiaries, will suffer all forms of injustice. These are the underlying issues, apart from the manifestation of poverty, that will result in increased poverty and corruption — the concern of US legislators in regard to Irish aid programmes. This is an Irish Aid priority country and this will be the impact of the cutbacks.

A crisis can bring changes for the better. When one is faced, as we are, with how one can obtain better value for one's money — we are trying to look at the silver lining around the cloud — one is forced to ensure one is more accountable for the money which Irish people continue to give, be it by way of voluntary donation or through their taxes. We are continuing to invest that money in the quality and impact of our work. We are working with like-minded agencies to create synergies and have entered into a strategic alliance with Gorta through which we are following the hunger task force report to see how we can as agencies complement the work each other and better implement the recommendations made and challenges presented by the hunger task force.

As an NGO community we are not just whinging and complaining; we are taking new measures to improve our work and get value for the money available, for which we remain appreciative. It must be recognised, however, that there is only so much we take in terms of cuts. From Trocaire's perspective, if we have to face cuts on top of a reduction in our programme for four additional countries apart from the five from which we are withdrawing, this will result in destabilisation of the organisation. Already, as a result of office closures, we have lost 30 staff overseas and will be making 27 people in Ireland redundant during the next 18 months. These are people in whom we have invested. They are highly trained, young, committed people who have entered the world of development work, from which they will never make a great deal of money, and who will now join the dole queue with so many others in the country. That is a shocking loss of talented people who are prepared to serve the country and the wider world in this way. There is only so much we can take. If further cuts are imposed resulting in our having to cut staff further, it will be difficult for us to keep going in a manner that will have a constructive impact.

When speaking at the Dóchas AGM some months ago, the Minister referred to aid predictability. We challenge him to examine this. Predictability of aid is now seen as a cornerstone of effective aid programmes. Ireland's partners — governments and NGOs — need to know what they will receive. They need to have reasonable assurances, when commitments have been made, which will allow them to put in place a plan for the forthcoming two or three years. We can give no commitments to our partners. They do not know what they can expect to receive or where they are going from here. There can be no more cutbacks in this budget line. If the Government were to agree to freeze the figure at its current level, we could work from that basis. Further cuts will make a minimal impact on the crisis in the public finances. Development aid amounts to less than 1% of Government expenditure. If we take another €15 million from it, as the McCarthy report suggests, then it is a pittance compared with what we need. However, we should consider the work we can do with that money, as has been illustrated today.

The Government will argue that we should stick to the percentage and that at 0.48% Ireland is still the sixth highest donor in the world. However, when that target of 0.7% was introduced in 1970 by the UN, it was a mechanism by which wealthy countries would be encouraged to increase their development aid to the poorest countries in the world. To use that mechanism now to justify further cuts in development aid, when there has already been 25% or €222 million taken from the budget is simply a perversion of what the United Nations intended. I simply cannot accept that as a line of argument anymore. We need to at least freeze the aid budget now with no more cuts in the forthcoming budget and build on it so that we can meet our target of 0.7% by 2012 or as soon as we can in terms of what is possible. We made that target and the Government still talks about that target. As NGOs we believe we should stick with that. We believe passionately that there should be no more cuts in December's budget. We would really appreciate this committee giving our appeal serious consideration and considering passing a resolution that would support that position.

We have had some clear expositions of the reality of the situation and some very interesting individual facts — we can get more of those subsequently. Ms Keogh has highlighted the effect on children who are in danger of dying as a result of this. Almost certainly some of those children will die. Ms O'Mahony pointed out the 10 million at risk of starvation in 2009 and that the number is increasing now. The witnesses indicated clearly the nature of the problem in talking about the increasing number of children on the rubbish heaps. I do not believe anybody else has that problem. Everybody has a problem currently and everybody's problem is very personal, but I do not believe we have that problem and we certainly have the resources not to have it here. We should not allow it to happen anywhere else.

I seek more information on the 500 staff. Mr. Kilcullen talked about the unemployed people and others seeking opportunities that are not available here at the moment. That is a great resource. What ideas do the witnesses have for new approaches? Mr. Kilcullen touched upon that at the end with mention of some of the co-operative and complementary work. He spoke of his ideas about the involvement of people from here who have no other opportunity at the moment and whether something substantial could be developed in that area. I would like to get a breakdown of the 500 staff who had to go, many of whom presumably would be local people.

Mr. Kilcullen indicated very clearly that those in Cambodia are overcoming the current problems by eating less in order to cope. He has made his overall approach very clear. I do not believe that anybody here would disagree with him in believing that enough is enough in this area. There should not be any more. We would nearly need to get members of the McCarthy group to appear before the committee in order to tell them about the realities of life in overseas aid. The Minister has said that he is still working on the basis of 2012. We certainly would want to give him every assistance in achieving the target of 0.7% of gross domestic product by 2012.

I thank our guests for attending. We share the concerns they have expressed. We are in a dilemma at the moment and we were in a similar one 20 years ago when our finances were in difficulty. We have to find €20 billion in the current year because that is what the shortfall will be. Unfortunately, cutting public expenditure is an essential part of getting us out of our financial difficulty. Whatever way one looks at it, 75% of that money is spent at home on social services such as social welfare, health and education. To save the money, we have to cut into that at home. I would prefer that we did not cut our overseas budget at all, either last year or this year. I hope it is not necessary but I understand where the Government is coming from because if we do not get our finances right, there will be less money for everyone, including those who need overseas aid.

I have been interested in the area of value for money, even before we found ourselves short on finances. This involves co-operation, co-ordination and the integration of services. The witnesses listed the services that have had their finances reduced, and these are mainly front-line services such as health care for children in Sierra Leone, the programmes to tackle genital mutilation and AIDS, and the programme for expectant mothers in Uganda. There must be more efficiency in the services. We all must do that, including at home. What is being done to avoid duplication of these services? When I visited Ghana, there was an outreach programme for AIDS being run by UNICEF, yet a local hospital a mile down the road was struggling to set up a similar programme. Neither organisation knew about the other, even though they were only a mile apart. Sometimes, a recession makes us think how we can make the service more efficient so that the necessary cuts can be avoided.

I would like to make a point about the definition of poverty. When we talk about poverty at home, we should talk about it in the context of where we rate in terms world poverty. We tend to talk about relative poverty and 25% of one section of the population living in relative poverty. It does not give a true picture of what poverty is like worldwide. We should concentrate more on where Ireland ranks worldwide.

Is it possible to get a figure on the amount of voluntary funding going to the developing world? Money is dispersed through the established non-governmental organisations, which are obviously identifiable, but there seems to be as much money being dispersed through all manner of groups and individuals to all manner of projects. We should try to take account of those and see where they place us as a country in terms of our obligations. I know the figure of 0.7% of GDP is supposed to come from taxpayers' money, but there is still substantial funding going out from elsewhere, and that is to be encouraged. However, it would be interesting to know whether anyone has been able to identify what such funding might amount to. I believe it would be impossible because much of it simply is being sent and no one knows anything about it. Certainly, I do not wish to see further reductions in the aid budget in the forthcoming budget. I understand the delegates' perspective and all members share the same concerns. While the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, is well aware of the views expressed here, the joint committee certainly will convey and reiterate them to him.

I thank Mr. Kilcullen for his presentation and passion, of which more is needed. I must remark on his encapsulation of Government policy with regard to the GNP percentage issue. I agree with his characterisation of what the Government is doing as being a perversion of what the United Nations had intended. I must disagree, however, with Ms Keogh's first comment to the effect that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is perceived to be an influential player regarding the overseas aid programme. That is not the case as it has failed dismally to exercise influence with regard to any cuts made in the past six to nine months. It has been found to be utterly useless in influencing decisions on the aid budget. It has become an exercise in conversation and does not carry weight within Government circles. That is the case regardless of all the double-talk that we hear here continually, of which more was heard today, whereby Fianna Fáil members express their personal views on the need not to cut the aid budget further. The joint committee holds hearings, after which the cuts continue; it then holds further hearings, after which the cuts continue. That is what has happened.

I must ask a question of the delegates. Mr. Arnold and the others have more meetings with Deputies Martin and Peter Power and know these Ministers far better than do I. What happens at such meetings? I wish to ask this question of the delegates as the heads of their respective organisations. Clearly, the impact they are making as lobbyists for their organisations is not having the desired effect. I apologise for this air of cynicism but I am afraid it has been borne out with time. Perhaps the Fianna Fáil representatives present and the Chairman could express a more definitive position on the actions Fianna Fáil and the Government intend to take with regard to the aid budget. Ultimately, the joint committee has become a forum for idle conversation about the aid budget and nothing more.

I agree with the comments of my colleague, Deputy Deasy. The joint committee has become a comfortable debating chamber in which various issues are discussed, whereby members identify with and express concern about people's problems and engage in what I would describe as woolly political speech to avoid addressing real issues. I was horrified while listening to the presentation by Ms Helen Keogh in which she described the impact of the cutbacks on the provision of essential aid to save the lives of children. As the opening speaker, she starkly and straightforwardly illustrated how the provision of aid was not some interesting worthy concept, rather she put it in simple and stark terms.

Like everyone else, I acknowledge the huge difficulties this country is in. On occasions, to sound responsible as a Deputy in the House one must speak quietly and clearly and contain one's anger. I listened to Deputy O'Hanlon, who in former years was a member of various Fianna Fáil Governments, as was the Chairman, speak about our €20 billion deficit as if it somehow arrived from outer space. We are where we are and it is relevant to the aid budget because of the reckless and grossly incompetent economic policies to which this country has been subjected by 12 years of Fianna Fáil Government. We are where we are on the aid budget because of the decisions made by the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government on where cutbacks can be implemented.

Deputy O'Hanlon spoke about issues of poverty, and many people outside this House — Irish citizens living in this country — are very fearful of their future and where they stand financially. They are concerned that very basic supports which the State now provides to them will be cut back and we must be conscious of that. However, we as a country also have an obligation to do our best where we have funded functioning aid programmes, to put our best foot forward to maintain those programmes and not to pull the rug from under them.

All of the witnesses have previously appeared before the committee in various guises and represented the organisations present. They should not leave this room under the illusion that this discussion will change anything and it would be grossly dishonest of us to pretend otherwise. What happens to the aid budget will be determined by the decisions made by the Government and by the majority of Deputies who support it in Dáil Éireann. It is as stark and realistic as that. I am concerned that whatever I think, there is little the committee can do to restore funds that have been removed and I do not want to pretend otherwise. However, I am also concerned that we will have further cutbacks on the aid budget. I am also concerned that there is an inevitability about that if the current parties remain in Government, and the programme cutbacks we heard about this afternoon must be revisited if that is the case.

We tend to try to be a little cosy on occasion in this committee but there is no point in members of Fianna Fáil crying crocodile tears over the dilemma now confronting aid organisations. Such actions deserve no credibility of any nature. This is a very serious issue about choices and values. Ultimately, in the context of our aid budget it is about saving lives and assisting communities in Third World countries to get themselves back on their feet and provide them with some degree of self-reliance.

In that context, I want to raise a number of specific issues. In the climate in which we find ourselves an issue is raised with regard to aid organisations redefining "aid" and their priorities. This is a very particular conversation we need to have to be realistic. There is nothing the Opposition parties can do at this time to restore the aid budget, so from my perspective and taking Deputy Deasy's approach as well, the issue is how can we ensure that what is available is used efficiently, targeted to those who most need it and at the very minimum saves those lives which can be saved. In fairness, Deputy O'Hanlon also raised this point.

I understand the philosophy behind the expansion of aid during the years beyond helping communities with the provision of food and medicines to the important work of enabling them to help themselves. However, a substantial amount of aid is now being used to fund what I describe as advocacy groups to engage in advocacy on a variety of issues in various countries. The thought process behind that funding is that it is necessary to effect political change to improve the well-being of individuals in the long term and that advocacy groups should be funded to produce newsletters, documentaries, presentations and descriptions. In the current environment that is a luxury which perhaps cannot be afforded. Aid needs to be targeted specifically at identifiable individuals rather than groups which have as their principal activities organising conferences and issuing press releases. The aid budget includes a proportion to fund such activities. They may be appropriate in different times but it is an issue aid organisations need to consider.

It is welcome that we are having this very important meeting. It gives Mr. Kilcullen, Ms Keogh, Ms O'Mahony and Mr. Arnold, who was extremely brief in introducing his colleague, an opportunity to set out in stark terms what is happening. In the context of the cutbacks in Trócaire's budget and the ensuing unemployment and the withdrawal of programmes to which Ms Keogh and Ms O'Mahony referred, how were the cuts determined? What were the value judgments behind the decisions and, in regard to the programmes which remain untouched, how much consideration was given to cutting aspects in a manner which would preserve important parts which directly improved the lives of people while maintaining some of the programmes being cut? I realise that if a programme is to work, continuity and a meaningful level of aid are necessary and that those with the requisite expertise must be kept in place. Where was the conflict in choosing certain projects over others?

I am only a substitute but I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. The fact that we have aid that is not linked was not raised. Many countries provide aid that is linked. Our aid takes a good and proper form. I ask each of the delegates whether it is possible to assess how aid can be given in different forms. I will explain what I mean. I am sure the first concern is the preservation of life, followed by a person's standard of living, even if, in some cases, it is only the absolute minimum. I give the example of being able to buy powdered milk which might even be purchased in Ireland. If some of the money was diverted in that way, it would have a very positive benefit here at home, where it is also badly needed, and abroad. It would improve the profile of the work the organisations represented here are doing. I believe that when we give we receive. There is a mindset in giving and I would certainly be among those who strongly advocate that there should be no further cuts, if at all possible.

I have a question for Mr. Kilcullen. We have a very good public service and an excellent Institute of Public Administration. Would it not also serve if, in the courses they offer, representatives were sent to Ireland to learn from the IPA how greatly it has assisted? I refer to the Barrington report of the 1960s which highlighted the fact that while Ken Whitaker and Seán Lemass impelled this economy, the public service had the drive to bring the economy to the better state it is in now.

What surprises me today — something I did not expect — is that there is a party political element to this meeting. I believe the tradition was that the Irish jersey was worn by all parties when we spoke on foreign affairs issues. It was particularly disappointing to hear the Government parties being blamed for the state of the economy. There are two aspects to this——

Will the Deputy please tell us he is not serious——

I did not interrupt anybody.

We live in the real world, for God's sake.

I did not interrupt anybody. Will the Deputy please stop interrupting me?

We are in fantasy land now.

Will the Deputy please stop interrupting me?

We are in fantasy land. We have had 12 years of Fianna Fáil government.

Chairman, will you please intervene? I am sure Deputy Shatter——

It is relevant that the economy is being destroyed and the aid budget cut.

The reality is there was a property bubble and Fine Gael's solution in its manifesto at the time of the last budget was to suggest getting rid totally of all taxes on the sale of property, including stamp duty.

That was Michael McDowell who was part of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government.

That was the Fine Gael solution in dealing with the bubble.

Can we now return to the issue of overseas aid, please?

Absolutely. The point I was making——

According to the Senator, cutting the aid budget bears no relation to the state of the public finances.

I take extreme exception to the Opposition breaking the long-standing tradition——

Of not criticising Fianna Fáil.

——of wearing the green jersey on all occasions to support Ireland's work abroad. It has not done so this morning which is very disappointing and does the members concerned a complete disservice.

I thank the contributors for the information they supplied which provided a very dramatic and stark picture of the impact of the 24% cut in the foreign aid budget.

Some truths were expressed with regard to the power of the joint committee. It is really a talking shop. I suggest the people who have most influence in protecting the aid budget are actually on this side of the table rather than on the Government side. Certainly, in the Seanad other members of the Opposition and I have been arguing against the implementation of cuts in the foreign aid budget. There has been double talk and handwringing on the Government side, as Senator Hanafin will know from debates in the Seanad. I do not doubt the desire of his party to ensure cuts are limited but the fact remains that it is not doing the job and a 24% cutback is far in excess of what we should be seeing. It is three times the rate of cuts made in other sectors of the economy.

I have some questions for the group, the first of which relates to the cut of 24%. How does this percentage compare to the cuts made in other First World economies such as the United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian countries? Is the figure here far in excess of the cutbacks made in these countries? I suggest also that the delegates need to increase their lobbying, particularly with Government parties, because the arguments often made during debates in the Seanad — in the Dáil also, I am sure — relate to the value for money exercise. The delegates have provided us with some very good information on how that issue is being tackled.

A second point that comes up for discussion concerns corruption. In the course of my visits to African countries in the past few years I saw how corruption is being tackled in Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda. We are helping to limit the impact of corruption.

The third issue that arises is the fact that we must borrow money to provide foreign aid because the general budget is in deficit. That line has been pushed by members of the Government parties during debates. They consistently make the point that to provide the foreign aid Ireland must borrow more. The whole world is in recession. There might be one or two governments running budget surpluses but countries such as the UK and the US are running dramatic deficits and it is not an argument being put forward in those countries as a reason to cut budgets.

The organisations must keep the pressure on, particularly on Government parties. My party certainly supports the organisations' comments. We should freeze the cuts; it is not acceptable to go further. Pressure should be put on Government members to ensure that in December further cutbacks are not introduced.

Like Senator Hanafin, I am substituting for another member of the committee. The Senator mentioned untied aid. Ireland is more than generous and has been historically, both politically and financially, to the world's poor and, indeed, to the poor in this country. We have also been more than generous in making untied aid available. There are those in the professional and manufacturing sectors who believe we are now victims of that generosity in untied aid.

Our cash, transferred via the Exchequer and the Oireachtas, is made available to organisations such as those before the committee today to support aid programmes. As a result, that cash is used to purchase goods and services in different parts of the world. I have been told by various manufacturers that we are not the beneficiaries of the purchasing capacity of our untied aid. People talk about First World countries and their generosity although, as far as I know, some of their reductions in aid are much greater than Ireland's. We are told they give much bigger sums, but that money is tied aid which means it is mandatory for international aid organisations to purchase goods and services from those countries' companies and corporate entities. As a result of our generosity, we are losing out in that context. It is costing us jobs. Perhaps the representatives would comment on that argument. I am told, in particular, that there is a serious loss to the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland because many pharmaceutical products required to eliminate disease in the Third World are purchased in other parts of the world and the Irish sector does not benefit from that. I am told we should review that situation. What is the opinion of the representatives?

The World Food Programme is one of the world's finest programmes from the point of view of the Third World. Ireland has been a massive contributor to that programme. Again, it is untied aid. In addition to the contribution Ireland makes to the programme, Irish personnel have worked with the FAO over the years in Rome and elsewhere and have made a huge contribution in this area. There is international acknowledgement of the leadership that has been given and the contribution that has been made by Ireland to the World Food Programme. Will the representatives comment on the impact of that programme from an Irish perspective?

Ireland is a generous contributor of aid, as is the European Union. According to figures I have seen, the EU is the world's biggest contributor to Third World aid. As proud members of the EU, Ireland plays a major role in this regard. We contribute not just as an individual member state but by ensuring that the positive environment with regard to the generosity of the contribution from the Union continues. That is as it should be. I am confident that Ireland, as a member state, will ensure that both the respect and the positive contribution to which I refer will continue so that the Union might continue to express its generosity in different parts of the world.

I regret the negative nature of Deputy Shatter's contribution and I agree with the comments of Senator Hanafin. In 1987, some 700,000 people were in employment here. By 2007, this had risen to 2.2 million. This led to the creation of a huge demand for goods and services, houses, property, and so on. As a result, people became involved in purchasing property. This was the case not only in Ireland but in Germany, the United States and elsewhere and a major global crisis developed. That is not to mention the other decisions that were taken.

I agree with the latter part of Deputy Shatter's contribution. The time has come to ensure that the cash being made available — irrespective of the amounts involved — should go to those in the Third World who need it. There must be synchronisation and the regime for delivering this aid must be refined. Money must not be wasted in unnecessary replication. Such replication may impact on the final global contributions given, with the utmost generosity, on behalf of the Irish people.

Ms Helen Keogh

I will refer to some of the questions posed and remarks made. At that point, my colleagues can comment on their areas of expertise.

I do not wish to go down the political route for obvious reasons. We value the opportunity to come before the committee because our voice is being heard, we hope. We appreciate that members support the case we make. It is good to hear them voice their support. We must take every opportunity to get our message across in the public and political domains. We avail of such opportunities as they arise.

Many issues have been raised. We do not live in cloud cuckoo land. If one is aware of how to obtain value for money, how to spend money and how to raise it, one should be involved in this sector because one will learn a great deal. We understand the fiscal difficulties with which the country is dealing, particularly as our voluntary contributions have been affected and our funding from Irish Aid has been cut. Our pledges were made as a percentage of national income. As a result, there was an in-built mechanism so that if we experienced economic difficulties, there would be a way to deal with the matter and there would not be a disproportionate cut.

We are realists and we accepted that cuts would occur. However, we were utterly bowled over and saddened by the fact that the cuts were so disproportionate. That is why we are finding it so difficult to cope with our programmes in the developing world. As Mr. Kilcullen stated, the uncertainty is devastating for us. Questions were posed with regard to how we decide on which programmes to cut. One might as well be Solomon because it is so difficult to make such decisions. We are obliged to discuss matters with our partners in the field and examine the various programmes. Ms O'Mahony is much better placed to inform members in detail with regard to how this is done. We consider every aspect of every programme and in the end we are often obliged to state: "We just cannot do that". It may sometimes be a case of applying a last-in-first-out approach in respect of which programmes or aspects of programmes to cut. It is awful to say so, but sometimes the methodology used is purely random. However, that is the way it had to be because the cuts were so shocking and came about so quickly.

Unfortunately, Deputy Deasy has left the meeting. The Deputy asked about meetings with Ministers. We have met Ministers. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, did his level best and he has been supportive. I hate using the words because they sound like waffle, but he has tried to do a good job. We have not had our voices heard sufficiently even though we have tried but our focus is on the developing world, not on Ireland. We have to turn around the way we operate to be more vocal at home and to engage the people who support us.

Mr. Tom Arnold

As Ms Keogh said, Deputy Deasy's question is fair. When we meet Deputies Martin and Peter Power, we talk about our concerns. Any time we have met them, we have received a fair and good hearing. The problem is that afterwards the decisions taken were terrible and, as Ms Keogh said, they were disproportionate in terms of cutbacks in public expenditure. That is why our clear message is that we cannot afford further cuts in the aid budget and, with that as a basis, we must start working back towards achieving the percentage target.

Were reassurances given in the meetings with the Ministers that there would be no further cutbacks in the aid budget?

Mr. Tom Arnold

At the last meeting we had with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, he spoke about the need to consolidate the position. We interpreted that as there should not be further cuts. It remains a Government decision but that was the outcome of that meeting. We felt it was important today to bring the human price of these cuts to the committee. That is what we have tried to do through eloquent testimony by my colleagues.

On the issue of tied aid, part of the Irish Aid programme's international reputation is due to the fact it is untied. That it is untied does not mean there are not benefits to the country. The fact that it is untied brings some benefit. I was in Tanzania at the end of May and I attended a meeting with the Irish ambassador and the Tanzanian Prime Minister who spoke about developing trade links between Ireland and Tanzania. Much of this has been generated by the goodwill generated by the Irish Aid programme.

I agree with Deputy Treacy regarding much of the value of the World Food Programme and the FAO but that is also a good example of where things have been going in the aid world. The use of food aid in recent years can be criticised in many respects and the biggest target of the criticism has been the United States. By law the food has to come from the US and be shipped on US ships and, therefore, by the time it gets to the recipient, the value of the budget is much lower than if the food had been bought closer to where it was needed. That has been the direction of policy and that is the way the World Food Programme has been going. Even in this case, Ireland should not go back to that policy. It was departed from at European level in the 1990s and we should not go back to it. We should instead use our resources in the very intelligent leadership way we have in the food hunger area by following up on last year's hunger task force report.

Is there an opportunity in pharmaceutical procurement or are we victims in this area?

Mr. Tom Arnold

Interesting developments are happening in the pharmaceutical area where some of the major pharmaceutical companies are looking to provide drugs more cheaply. Many of them work in partnership with some of the NGOs on this issue. That is the way to go and real opportunity exists there.

There was an effort on the part of President Clinton with regard to HIV. He got the prices of drugs reduced and that is entirely to be commended. I am sure Ms O'Mahony knows what that means on the ground.

Ms Anne O’Mahony

We have to examine aid effectiveness, consider the limited budget and get the most value from it. With regard to purchasing, we must examine open and transparent processes and procedures and go for the best value. One of the big moves to which the Chairman referred was on HIV-AIDS drugs. When they came on the market initially they were very expensive; they were controlled by the big corporates and were unaffordable for most of the people with whom we deal on a day-to-day basis. Ten years ago we saw high death rates from AIDS; now people are given a chance for life but that chance is only possible if the drugs are affordable and remain so. Focusing on the issue of generic drugs is most important in terms of being able to get affordable drugs to people who really need them.

Like Mr. Arnold I would hate to see us returning to tied aid. It would bring into question the entire aid effectiveness agenda which is so important for us all. To answer another question raised by the Chairman earlier we had to let go approximately 550 staff, 17 of whom were based in Ireland and the rest overseas. It is the overseas staff for whom we felt the greatest sorrow because they will have few other job opportunities, no welfare, no dole and no other means of support for many of them. Those staff members are being really hit by what we are doing to them as a result of these cuts.

As Ms Keogh stated, it is extremely difficult to make decisions on which programmes to close and which countries to cut. One takes all the facts and figures and tries to keep the human element out of it but it creeps in all the time. Therefore, one considers issues such as what will cause the least number of deaths because when we talk about programme cuts we are talking about deaths and we cannot paint it in any other way. We also consider what cuts will not set us back so many years. It is a juggling act and ultimately one must decide on what must go and live with it. It is a very difficult process and it has been agony to go through it. I would not like to have to go through it again in the short term.

Our staff in our various countries of operation have made huge sacrifices to date with salary cuts and freezes in spite of huge inflation rates. Kenya has a 20% inflation rate and we are cutting staff salaries. They state that they are there to work for the people for whom they are there to work and they accept those cuts and deal with them. I must say it is agonising.

Mr. Justin Kilcullen

As an NGO community we share the sense of lack of political clout which the committee feels and we need to address that. There are no votes in this business. We are actively campaigning. We attend all of the festivals, and we will attend the National Ploughing Championships, to garner support but people have their own concerns at a time of crisis and it is difficult to get political weight behind this issue.

When we meet a Minister for Foreign Affairs he or she is sympathetic but gets talked down at Cabinet. There are many influential people in the Dáil and the Seanad. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are former Ministers for Foreign Affairs and they know this business well. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was very committed to this. He has travelled and he knows this business well. Other Ministers of State have held the position of Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid. We need to hear these voices.

There is a constituency in the Oireachtas of people on both Opposition and Government benches who know this business first-hand. We need coherent and articulate people who understand this to challenge the Government and their parties on these issues. It is not good enough to retreat behind party lines on issues of this nature. I believe the Irish people will appreciate that. We are looking for leadership and, if it is given, the public will understand that the situation in the developing world is such that we have to make an extra effort even as we contend with the very difficult issues before us at home.

In regard to Deputy Shatter's point on advocacy, our presence before this committee is about advocacy. I agree that all advocacy activities and organisations need to be held to account in these times for the added value of their work. In his opening comments, the Chairman acknowledged the work of our advocacy staff in arranging this meeting and preparing our presentations. Over the past several weeks, I have been dealing with the trade union about redundancies and have not been able to give this any thought. Thanks to the staff, we can come here to present these issues. Advocacy is part of what we do and it is increasingly seen as a very important part of the work of NGOs in building the political constituency required if we as nations are to meet our responsibilities to the developing world.

On advocacy, it is terribly important that Trócaire and other groups are able to explain their work to the communities on whom they depend for funding. I was referring to the funding of advocacy groups in other countries which have political agendas and whether they should be funded for issues which may be valid or if the money should instead provide the basis of the aid to which Ms Keogh and Ms O'Mahony referred, whether AIDS treatment or basic agricultural assistance and training. That is the differentiation I am making.

Mr. Justin Kilcullen

I accept that an issue arises in that regard. I would debate it with the Deputy if we had more time. He has a point but there is a lot to it. I would refer to my own example from Zambia, where the Catholic Church is engaged in advocacy on issues of corruption. We believe that is a valid and important activity, even at the present time. If a corrupt regime is in power, the poorest people will not get food and basic supplies. That is why one has to constantly help the poorest and the most vulnerable to speak for themselves.

I will conclude on one further point. We have spoken about the recession and the €20 billion deficit. We do not often acknowledge that Ireland has been a beneficiary of development assistance. EU Structural Funds helped to build this country's infrastructure and a strong economy which has sustained us through the 1990s and into this century. It continues to help us today given that we remain a relatively wealthy country. In the 1980s, when Europe was in recession, the Germans, the French and the British did not say to Ireland "We are sorry but things are tough and we cannot come up with the Structural Funds." They recognised the importance of building Europe and helping the most vulnerable communities and those on the margins by bringing them up to a level which would enhance the entire community. The same applies today to our relationship with the developing world. I do not accept that we were happy to accept Structural Funds and would have kicked up a stink had we been deprived of them only to turn around when we are in a position to do something to others and say "Sorry, the recession is too hard and we have to cut the budget."

I thank the delegation for the informative presentations. We have held discussions on political clout. I am not going to get into that because it is largely a waste of time. All Members have political clout. They speak at parliamentary party meetings and make their views known to Ministers. We had unanimous support here for the line taken today by the delegates, who set it out very clearly. There is no need to deviate from that — it would only take from it. The committee has always had a very united approach although we have had differences of opinion about various issues and committee members could point to when they have had arguments and debates. Nonetheless, we focused on the main issues. This is an exceptional issue and cannot be treated in the same way as any other. I appreciate, as do the members, that we too have a problem in conveying to the public that these are exceptional circumstances. That position is made a little worse by the fact that over recent years there have been great increases in aid, which are to the credit of all, Government and Opposition. We must stop any rowing back at this stage. It has gone far enough. I will certainly push that view at my parliamentary party and I know others here will do the same. No matter what they have said about the issues that must be dealt with, everybody has come out in support of the line suggested today by the delegates.

As the delegates are probably aware, we have some other organisations to meet. It has been particularly valuable to air the situation very clearly and to record it. We will certainly convey, on behalf of the committee in the first instance, a very strong letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Mícheál Martin, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, following today's meeting. When we have completed that we can consider drafting a resolution or motion.

In any event, this has been very worthwhile and helpful. We need to challenge the political parties and our colleagues but what the delegates have said was very practical. It is clear they are very constructive and effective in the work they do. They set out the realities and have shown how they examine very closely the issues with which they must deal. Wherever there may be waste in the system they have been taking steps, and that is the vital point. When the Government sees the way in which the matter is being approached by the delegates, that will help to strengthen its position in continuing to offer aid and in not having any further reductions.

The delegates expressed very clearly the serious impact the cuts will have on overseas development aid and the effects they are having at the moment, not only on their work but on the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. While recognising the challenges facing us all in today's difficult economic climate we should not forget those men, women and children the world over who struggle on a daily basis to secure the most simple necessities such as food, water, shelter and education. As Senator Hannigan — who took part in one of our visits — noted, we have seen the effectiveness of the moneys supplied through Irish Aid. We saw it on the ground when we went to see what is happening and the difference that aid is making. We should not go back from the present position. Despite the economic situation facing us, there are still necessities that we often take for granted in Ireland.

I take it there is agreement that members will write in the strongest terms possible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the first instance, and the Minister for Finance, following today's meeting.

We should include the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power.

Yes, the Minister of State. Following today's meeting the message should go out loud and clear that no further reductions in the budget for overseas aid should occur at this time. There is no support for the McCarthy proposal of a further cut. More than enough has been done already and we believe the delegates are entirely responsible in the work they do. I thank them for coming today.

Ms Helen Keogh

On behalf of the delegation, I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for their support. We appreciate that they will write to the Ministers and that they have seen fit to put forward a resolution which would be a useful addition.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.35 p.m. and adjourned at 1.45 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 September 2009.