Business of Joint Committee

We have a quorum and will commence in public session. No apologies have been received and I hope there will be a full attendance today.

I remind members and the people in the public gallery, which are quite few at the moment, to ensure that their mobile telephones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even on silent mode, with the recording equipment in committee rooms. I ask everyone to respect my instruction and ensure they are switched off completely.

No. 1 on the agenda relates to minutes of previous meetings. The minutes of the meetings of 12 October, 19 October and 10 November have been circulated to members. Are there any matters arising from those minutes?

I have a comment on Ukraine and Tymoshenko. I am rather sceptical of the position the EU is taking on Tymoshenko but at least we can recognise that she has been released from jail to have some medical procedures. However, the real issues are coming down the line as to how the case will proceed on corruption charges. It is a bit premature for the EU to be taking such a negative stance on the Ukraine Administration pending the debate that will be had about the gas deal with Russia and the question of corruption in politics. I am not saying that the woman is corrupt, but there are charges and there is much suggestion that there may have been corrupt activities, not least of which is the complaint on which she has been found guilty already, which was exceeding her remit. I beg caution. The EU and this committee seems to be on their high horse in condemning the Ukrainian authorities for better or for worse, but the jury is still out on the role of Tymoshenko in Ukraine.

I would have similar concerns, but from a slightly different perspective. It is important that whatever allegations are made be proven and that the person against whom they allegations are made has an opportunity to have her case heard in the normal way, as applies, or should apply, in this jurisdiction. The point made by my colleague is well taken, but we should also recognise, notwithstanding what the EU decides as a unit, that we as a member state within the European Union have particular responsibilities and we should always stand up and live up to those.

I thank the Deputies. We note their comments and we will take them on board. It is something to which we will return. I had the pleasure recently of meeting the Minister for European Affairs of Ukraine and it is something I discussed with him. The case is ongoing and we really cannot judge anything at this stage. We will return to that, if that is okay with both Deputies.

Before we commence today's proceedings, it would be completely remiss of me not to congratulate President Michael D. Higgins on his election as Uachtarán na hÉireann. As the committee will be aware, President Higgins was a long-serving and distinguished member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and, indeed, was a member of the very first Committee on Foreign Affairs having long campaigned for the committee to be established, and that should be acknowledged here today by this committee. The quality of his contributions to debate on the committee have been widely appreciated by members in all parties in the House and his commitment to a wide range of international issues, particularly human rights and development aid, added greatly to the business of the committee. On behalf of all of the members of the committee and on my own behalf, I wish President Higgins every success in his tenure in Áras an Uachtaráin. I was delighted to hear in one of his interviews that he will keep human rights and Irish aid at the top of his agenda as well as Uachtarán na hÉireann.

On a related matter, I welcome back Senator Norris to the committee and congratulate him on his campaign, even if on this occasion it was not successful.

I support the Chairman's gracious remarks and congratulations to President Michael D. Higgins. The Chairman is absolutely correct. President Higgins and myself founded the first ever Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. No doubt he will continue to be, as he has shown already, an outstanding President. He has made it clear that human rights and these issues are very much at the top of his agenda. I would like the honour of supporting the Chairman's remarks of congratulations to the ninth President of Ireland, who, I really believe, will be quite outstanding.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I want to be associated with the Chairman's comments. The President was renowned internationally for his role in the area of human rights and foreign affairs. We wish him well in his new role, which I think he will fill with very considerable distinction. It is good to have Senator Norris back here as well.

On behalf of the Sinn Féin Party, I join in the congratulations to the new President. When one considers the intervention of the former President Mary Robinson in her role in the UN and her recent support for the campaign to get emergency assistance to the Somalian people and the general region of the Horn of Africa, we have a tremendous track record globally in overseas aid, human rights and social justice. No doubt the President will continue in that fine tradition.

Like the others speakers, I concur with the Chairman's congratulations to the former distinguished member of the committee, President Michael D. Higgins. I am sure his spirit and thoughts are with us, as ours are with him. I record our appreciation for the work that he did in highlighting the issues that effect this country and the entire globe, with particular reference to human rights abuses. He adopted what appeared to be difficult stances at various times over the past 30 years. We owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing to our attention those issues and for creating a situation whereby we, as a nation, can always have regard for those who are worse off than ourselves, even in our present circumstances.

I add my congratulations also. It is gratifying to have a poet, a philosopher and human rights activist in Áras an Úachtaráin. I had the opportunity to be a member of the previous Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs when I came into the Dáil in 2009 and I would sit at the committee amazed at the depth of knowledge of both Senator Norris and President Higgins. No matter what issue came up, they had been there, done that and got the T-shirt. They knew so many people and so many groups, no matter what country was being discussed.

It would be nice if the committee invited the President back to address us at some stage in his busy schedule.

What a good idea.

I was not going to contribute because I am slightly embarrassed to have to say that I contributed to the man being elected.

So did I, with 67% of my second preferences.

We noted that as well.

It has just dawned on me that I should start removing the stickers off the back of my car.

I am delighted and will convey that to him very soon, because he will be at two important functions, one of which is a drugs addiction programme. The other is the school orchestral programme in Crumlin. He will be visiting them and I will certainly pass on informally the committee's pride and joy on his success in being the President of Ireland.

As a fellow Galwegian, I extend my congratulations. I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Joint Committee of Foreign Affairs with him but I served with him many years ago on Galway County Council. I have known for a long time of President Higgins' significant contribution to international affairs and human rights. There is certainly a wonderful feeling of celebration in Galway on his election. He is a wonderful human being and he will be an outstanding President.

I add my congratulations to the new President, President Higgins. I contributed to his election by my voting. I was not a member of the committee with him but I certainly listened to, and was present for, many of his contributions in the Dáil. In full flight he was not only informative and passionate but also entertaining. I congratulate him on becoming President. I suggest that a copy of the Official Report of this part of our meeting be sent to him.

I concur with my colleagues' comments. It is humbling to hear that Michael D. Higgins is held in such high esteem. When we visited Ethiopia last week, his fantastic record on promoting human rights was mentioned on several occasions. As a fellow Galwegian and a namesake, I admire his remarkable achievement of becoming what Senator Norris described as a political millionaire. I wish him the best during his term in office. I would welcome an opportunity to have a discussion with him in this committee.

I want to be associated with the comments of other members. I did not serve on this committee previously but I had the pleasure of listening to our new President on many occasions in the Dáil. He reflects the aspirations of the Irish people at this stage in our development. He is a poet and a philosopher but he is also a human rights activist. We are sending out a strong message internationally and I do not doubt he will do us proud. His wife is also fitting into her new role extremely well. I wish them happiness and success over the coming years.

I congratulate our new President. He will be an excellent President and his post-election comments show that he will be a unifying figure. The country needs his positive outlook.

I join my colleagues in congratulating the President on his election. I do not doubt that he will do the country proud. He reminds me in many ways of the excellent former President, Paddy Hillery, who restored dignity to the office following the controversies surrounding the unfortunate but necessary resignation of his predecessor. I wish the President well during his term.

I think members are unanimous in their desire to invite the President to address us at some stage. I am sure he will keep a close eye on Oireachtas proceedings. Their comments will have gone down well with our guest, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. It is not often members are in agreement but we are very proud of President Higgins.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State and her officials to discuss Ireland's priorities for the high level forum on aid effectiveness which will take place next week in Busan, South Korea. I look forward to representing Ireland at the parliamentary session in Busan. She is accompanied by the following officials from Irish Aid: Mr. Michael Gaffney, deputy director general; Mr. Vincent O'Neill, director of policy, planning and effectiveness; and Mr. Paul Sherlock, senior development specialist. I thank them for briefing me recently during my first visit to Irish Aid headquarters in Limerick.

The high level forum marks a key milestone in the international effort to strengthen the quality of development assistance. Members of the committee agree that an effective development aid policy should be central to Ireland's foreign policy. We have selected Irish Aid as a priority in our work programme for 2011.

Several committee members recently visited Ethiopia, where we observed the positive effects of targeted and well-planned aid. While I recognise that 3,000 delegates from more than 100 countries will be attending the conference, I hope Ireland will be one of the stronger voices given our track record. I am pleased to note that a recent analysis by the European Commission ranks Ireland first in the EU in implementing its aid effectiveness commitments. While this is an achievement in itself, it also gives us the right to call for greater efforts from others, whether donors or recipients, in making aid work better.

I invite the Minister of State to make her presentation and indicate whether she is optimistic that the forum will result in greater aid effectiveness.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the upcoming high level forum on aid effectiveness which will take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, next week. I thank the committee for its strong support for development and welcome home the members who travelled to Ethiopia last week. I understand the visit was a success and they had opportunities to see the real impact the Irish Aid programme is having on the ground and raise concerns local communities and at Government level. They had a long meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, who kept other people waiting while he engaged with them.

Ireland's aid programme is making a real difference in the fight against global poverty and hunger. It is also building influence for Ireland internationally with countries which in the future will be among our political and trading partners. It is the nature of this sustainable change which we are helping to achieve and the transition from aid dependency to locally-driven development will be the focus of our engagement at Busan. I am pleased that the Chairman of this committee will be a full member of the Irish delegation at Busan and that he will be able to bring the views and experiences of the committee to bear on the forum's outcome.

The Government is strongly committed to Ireland's overseas development programme, which is central to our foreign policy and our commitment to rebuilding our reputation on the world stage. Ireland's aid programme has a rigorous focus on achieving real and sustainable results and provides strong international leadership in making aid more effective. This has been recognised internationally. Two years ago, in reviewing our aid programme, the OECD stated that Irish Aid is a champion in making aid more effective. Earlier this month, the highly respected Centre for Global Development in Washington rated Ireland in the top three donors in the world for delivery on our aid effectiveness commitments. The other two were the United Kingdom and the World Bank. When we speak on aid effectiveness internationally, we do so against a background of achievement and with real credibility.

Strengthening the impact of aid on the reduction of poverty levels is at the heart of the upcoming Busan forum. In the 1990s it became clear that the traditional approaches to development were not having the desired impact. There were too many isolated projects which were not co-ordinated nor led by developing countries. This led to a duplication of effort and a waste of resources. A new approach based on evaluations and lessons learned over many years was agreed internationally in 2005 in an agreement known as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The declaration commits donors to working more closely together and with recipient governments on programmes focused on reducing poverty, better aligning overseas co-operation programmes with national priorities, using national systems and having a greater focus on results and accountability.

In 2008 in Accra, Ghana, the international community reaffirmed its commitments to provide effective aid and broadened the discussion from only donors and developing country executive governments to include parliamentarians and civil society. In Accra, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, representing parliamentarians, was instrumental in ensuring that parliamentarians are brought fully into the aid effectiveness debate.

One of the major changes since the Paris and Accra declarations has been the increasing number of new donors, emerging economies, private sector foundations and non-governmental organisations providing significant amounts of development assistance. Many of these countries and organisations were not involved in Paris and Accra and, therefore, do not feel duty bound to implement the commitments made there. The prize in Busan will be agreement with non-OECD donors such as China, Brazil and others on common ground between different traditions of development co-operation but we need to be realistic and see Busan as the first step in a process of greater co-operation with new partners on development issues, which will be further defined and strengthened in the coming years.

Ireland's commitment to aid effectiveness is explicit in the White Paper on Irish Aid and I expect that this focus will be maintained as a result of the review of the White Paper I have initiated, which will be completed next summer following wide consultation. Ireland has been a strong advocate of local ownership, harmonisation and alignment, both at policy and at field level, for many years. Irish Aid is also active at the international level in promoting good practice on aid effectiveness. The successful implementation of our commitments to improve the impact of aid from Ireland has been confirmed by the OECD in the latest Paris declaration monitoring survey, which placed Ireland among the best performers internationally. We have clearly made progress on aid effectiveness and have a legitimate voice to call on others to do more.

In the lead up to the Busan forum we have consulted widely at home and engaged proactively abroad. I have had the opportunity on a number of occasions to discuss the forum with Oireachtas Members and I look forward to hearing the committee's views. We have also worked closely with our NGO partners in Ireland to ensure their views and suggestions are included in the Busan discussions. I will meet their representatives - some of whom are present - in Busan to take stock of progress and to discuss how best we can make the forum a success. Internationally, we have also actively engaged over the past 12 months in the preparations for Busan. We have engaged with our programme countries, chaired working groups in the OECD and worked closely with the EU, the UN and our Nordic colleagues to ensure Busan delivers an agenda which is ambitious and which is operational.

I have been working to advance a number of key issues. Our focus is on poverty reduction and on development results, particularly in fragile and conflict affected states. We are also ensuring that women and girls are prioritised in development. Other priorities for Ireland include strengthening the transparency and accountability of development spending; ensuring civil society organisations can play a legitimate role as partners in poverty reduction and reducing the bureaucracy of managing aid. The latest draft of the Outcome document includes solid commitments in these areas and on the critical importance of parliamentarian oversight at home and in developing countries. Work is still being done on this. There is a firm commitment to strengthen the capacity of parliamentarians in developing countries to fulfil their role.

I have been asked to speak at the ministerial session on results and accountability and I intend to use this opportunity to raise these priorities. I will also speak on a panel on the important issues of nutrition and hunger and I will have the opportunity on a number of occasions to discuss global development policy with other heads of delegations. While in Busan, I will also meet political representatives of our nine programme countries to discuss the White Paper review and the new Africa strategy of the Department. I will explore with them the implications of Busan on the future direction of the Irish Aid programme.

I will work hard to ensure that the Busan Forum is a success and that it places the effectiveness of aid at the heart of development policy. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure every euro of our aid leads to real and lasting results for people living in poverty and that there is a clear understanding among the Irish public of how this is being achieved and why it is in our interests, as a people, that we continue to engage in this way. I look forward to coming back to the committee after the forum to reflect on its outcome and to discuss its implications for our aid programme in the crucial years ahead. I very much value the opportunity to engage with the committee.

I thank the Minister of State. Her remarks were heartening, particularly the references to strengthening the impact of aid and to reducing poverty levels being at the heart of the upcoming Busan forum. It is at the committee's heart as well.

I would like to acknowledge the briefing provided to the committee by Dochas in advance of the meeting. It will contribute to the debate and to my participation in the forum. A number of other Irish NGOs will also take part in the forum, ensuring space for civil society organisations, which is important. I wish the NGOs travelling to Busan every success with their contributions.

I thank the Minister of State for her presentation. I suppose she will approach the Busan initiative with confidence and enthusiasm because it aims to build on two previous successful endeavours in Paris and Ghana. She goes with our blessing and encouragement to continue with the traditional approach adopted by Ireland to aid effectiveness.

It would be remiss of those of us who were part of the deputation to Ethiopia not to bring our experiences to the debate, particularly because a number of us had not been in that part of Africa previously and may not have had the opportunity to engage with Irish Aid, NGOs and the recipients of aid from donor countries. While acknowledging that our experience over the week was hugely educational, those of us who have not been directly involved in these issues in the past have a great deal to learn. I was enormously impressed by what I saw and heard, the palpable co-operation between Irish Aid and all the NGOs and agencies on the ground, the way the Irish NGOs, our ambassador and her staff and Irish Aid were a link with many other promoters of aid and development in Ethiopia and the respect in which our team there is clearly held.

With regard to the way the programme is evolving in Ethiopia - I expect this is reflected in other parts of the world - the partnership approach has been adopted with partner donors and government at local and national level. The focus is on the participation of the ultimate targets of the aid, who are the people in urban and rural communities, and the empowerment process under way in terms of education, health and participation in civil society, which is being encouraged. With regard to the representations we had before we departed, the debate we had while in Ethiopia and the correspondence we have had since regarding our discussion with the Minister of State today, there is demand to focus on civil society. A significant focus of our discussions with the prime minister, the African Union, local government agencies and so on was on the development of civil society and providing the space for civil society organisations to develop. Does that in itself reflect the extent to which the aid programme has been progressing and the extent to which the primary issues of food security, and security and safety from conflict have been progressing?

I come back to the issue of conflict and how aid agencies and donor countries can play a more effective role in conflict situations. When we went to the west of the country we witnessed the influx of people into Ethiopia from the Sudanese state of Blue Nile. We heard about the conflicts there and met people whose homes had been destroyed and whose family members had been murdered. Does the Minister of State envisage us as participants in the Busan initiative trying to elevate the role of donors to a greater level of participation in conflict resolution? If we could solve many of these conflicts, the hardships people are experiencing could certainly be addressed far more readily.

The other issue that emerged was the extent to which many of these programmes have a climate change connection, including the reforestation of areas where woodlands have been cleared and the regrowth on the mountains where controlled grazing programmes are now in hand. As we are all challenged over the level of aid available, carbon sequestration may represent an opportunity to develop initiatives that will be beneficial to these target countries.

The Minister of State is doing a good job. The people we have met speak highly of her and her predecessors. While this committee sends her abroad with our blessing, we also send her back to her Government colleagues with a message that we unanimously want to see the budget for these initiatives retained. Despite the enormity of the challenge we all face, people who are dependent on this funding to put a crust of bread or a bowl of rice before their children should not be abandoned. The investment we have rightly made in Irish Aid projects throughout the years should not be lost by virtue of us reneging on this now and abandoning them at a point when they are about to make major advances.

As many members are offering, we might make our meetings more effective by keeping our contributions slightly shorter.

I have attended committee meetings and listened to Dáil debates in which we talked about the reputational damage to Ireland from this economic crisis. Here we have a report indicating that Ireland is a world leader in overseas aid, something we do not say loud enough. We lead the world in responding to crises and in aid effectiveness and in using our resources properly. The Irish Aid programme is a world leader in how to use resources effectively and how to empower the communities in which we engage by taking a strategic long-term approach to addressing their problems. That reflects our history and in particular the recollection of the potato Famine, the decades of emigration and our huge footprint across the world. It is something of which we can be immensely proud.

When the Minister of State goes to Busan, she should stand up and be proud of the people she represents. She should be proud of our history and legacy, and should lead from the front in Busan. We go with our heads held high. We have had a few years where we failed economically, but even through those years we reached a point where €700 million, almost 0.6% of GDP, was deployed to overseas aid. We were almost at the level of the millennium development goals. We tick almost all the boxes in the Paris and Accra monitoring. The key message from the committee is to lead from the front with pride on behalf of our people in Busan.

The issue of civil society and partnership will be dealt with. We have seen the work of Concern and Trócaire in Ethiopia with women in small enterprises, which is a magnificent long-term approach helping them to access finances and develop business capacity thereby empowering them in a real way. We have seen the work of GOAL with the street children in Ethiopia and the work of Irish Aid in Tigre. We have seen the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, a magnificent initiative, in which the Government helped establish the feasibility. This is a room, which on entering initially appears like Wall Street giving rise to fears. However, very quickly one realises that this actually helps small farmers by making the market accountable and getting them a fair deal. It has their payment in their bank account the next day and also returns some tax which is critical for services there. We have seen the impact of education and health services. Most importantly with 85% of the population living in agricultural areas, there have been revolutionary endeavours in agriculture. UCC under our assistance has a partnership there and trains people to masters standards.

We need to be telling more of this to the people. At a time when people's heads are down, we need to give them a sense of pride by telling them what we have done for our partners across the world. We need to be beating our chest about the great things about our people. We need to tell the stories about what Irish Aid and our great NGOs have been doing in the programme countries. Along with our international partners we need to fight with that moral weight to do the right thing by these people. Having returned from Ethiopia I am lifted in spirit. I have never been more proud of my country and of the Irish people who go there - those who work directly for the Government and for the NGOs or who just volunteer spontaneously. It might be in plastic surgery or agricultural development. We need to find some way of communicating this remarkable story to our people and we need to be proud of ourselves.

We need to promote the fact that the Centre for Global Development has effectively ranked Ireland as the second nation in our effectiveness. Many of our meetings to date have discussed the effectiveness of our aid programme. This report goes if not all the way, a very significant part of the way in addressing that. I compliment the Minister of State and thank her for coming today. I particularly thank the officials and those directly responsible. There can be times at these committee meetings when officials get a tough time, but when they come in with that sort of performance they need to be congratulated on the great work they have done on our behalf.

On 25 October the Minister of State received a letter from Concern, Trócaire and Dóchas with three requests relating to the Minister of State negotiating on our behalf. While I will not go into them in detail, the first question relates to strengthening democratic ownership. They feel that the Busan outcome document is weak in that regard. They have some technical suggestions on which I ask the Minister of State to comment. On reconfirming and monitoring the Paris and Accra commitments, there should be no dilution of those commitments. Most importantly they refer to timebound commitments. Commitments need to be cemented with some sort of time limit or outcome so that they are beneficial rather than aspirational. Many Irish people contribute through Dóchas. The wishes and concerns of that association and other large charities will have to be taken very seriously. Will the Minister of State comment on the three specific recommendations made?

I thank the Minister of State for coming. Like previous speakers, I am very proud that as a small nation Ireland is recognised and held in high esteem. I must admit I do not know anything about the Centre for Global Development in Washington, but if it states Ireland is one of the best donors and one of the most effective at delivering aid, I will take it at its word. However, we cannot sit on our laurels.

I am not an expert on foreign affairs issues and I am a relatively new member of the committee. However, if I read the briefing notes correctly, it seems there is a policy to co-ordinate the activities of various donors in various countries and that conferences were held to consolidate this position in Paris in 2005 and Accra in 2008. While this effectiveness is to be applauded, the documentation from the Irish NGO sector makes very disturbing reading. The requests made are very specific and pointed. Will the Minister of State comment on them?

I understand new donor companies get involved as time progresses, but many of them were not parties to the original negotiations and might have different philosophical and political attitudes to the NGO movement. If I understand correctly, the challenge for the State in its negotiations in Busan is to try to deal with the argument the NGOs are making which, in a nutshell, is that the more governments work together in a co-ordinated fashion, the more NGOs and civil society are squeezed.

The praise lauded on Ethiopia is interesting, but having read the document it seems Ethiopia may not be as wholesome as suggested. The document states recent research conducted by Trócaire and the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, CAFOD, concluded that civil society in Ethiopia, Malawi, Honduras and Cambodia was being increasingly restricted. It also states these organisations are extremely concerned that civil society and NGOs are being squeezed as matters develop. In the research very strong terminology is used to the effect that matters are in a desperate state. It states there is growing evidence that the space in which independent civil society organisations work has been rapidly closing. The Minister of State has just returned from Ethiopia and reports suggest this squeezing of civil society is happening. Who is telling the full story?

I would like to think that as development aid is advanced and relationships develop between other donor nations and companies we will think positively about the contributions made by Irish NGOs which have contributed to our gaining high esteem and recognition at the Centre for Global Development. Will the Minister of State address the particular concern of NGOs that the more government to government and country to country relationships develop, the more civil society will be squeezed out and targeted by some of the countries mentioned?

Ireland has played a major role and has a very good reputation through the involement of NGOs, missionaries and the Government. Ireland's role at Accra must be acknowledged, particularly the work done by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, through his involvement in foreign affairs issues and the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, AWEPA.

Aid must be real, lasting and make a positive difference. Irish Aid must try to do itself out of a job and it will have been successful when there is no further need for it. What is happening in Busan presents a real opportunity and it is great that the Minister of State and the Chairman will meet our nine programme partners. I hope they will take the opportunity to meet other African parliamentarians, as I know AWEPA is responsible for bringing a further 20 to Busan.

Some progress has been made on the use of the word "oversight" since we last met. I raised the issue through a Priority Question to the Tánaiste several weeks ago.

Have we met our commitment to provide money to tackle AIDS and other communicable diseases? Are the target timeframes and parameters to achieve results realistic? We do not want them to be too narrowly focused.

Concerns have been raised about civil society. Malawi and Ethiopia are two countries in which, apart from Zimbabwe, we see limited space for civil society and it seems to be shrinking all the time. Parliamentary democracy is in danger because some of these countries do not have a parliament. They have a government or a one-party parliament, but having a parliament and a government are different things.

Having been to three African countries in the past six months, both privately and through AWEPA, I have grave misgivings about China's role. I accept everything the Minister of State said, but Ireland has a role to play. I have seen what China has been doing in other African countries and it is appalling that it is not being reined in and that somebody does not explain to it what effective aid means.

Like other speakers, I congratulate the Minister of State on her address to the committee and the Government's commitment to the delivery of the overseas aid programme. I compliment everybody concerned on recognising the need for a commitment to the provision of international aid at all times, particularly at a time of economic stress at home when there could well be a tendency to review one's position.

It also behoves us to recognise that when we were in a similar position, other countries, societies and civilisations came to our aid. Even the Choctaw Indians came to our aid at a time when it was not readily recognised that word of our difficulties had spread to that region. This happened at a time when international communication was very difficult. We also received aid from Turkey and other countries during the Famine. This should serve to remind us that even in our current economic difficulties others are immeasurably worse off than us. The developed world - for want of a better description - still has a role to play.

Ireland is deemed and recognised internationally as a neutral country and has been since 1939. Prior to that date, it was not neutral. Irish people engaged throughout the world and got involved as soldiers of fortune on every continent. This gave us a breadth of vision and knowledge that would not have been available to us otherwise and it serves us well today. In a time of competing demands the experiences gained by previous generations in such situations is very important. It is also very important that we now inform ourselves of the necessity to recognise international commitments already given, notwithstanding the pressing times in which we live.

A number of members pursued for several years the question of the effectiveness of aid, as we all knew there would come a time when it would become a salient issue. It is appropriate that this should be so. In that context, the work being done by NGOs and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is important, as there is nothing as bad as being in need of aid and discovering that the money is going elsewhere. It is important that we keep this matter to the fore at all times. The effectiveness of our assistance to all other countries and the long-standing good will and charity of the people will evaporate overnight unless we continue to monitor the provision of aid.

I congratulate the committee on its visit to see what was happening on the ground. First-hand experience is much better than documentation, e-mails or other forms of correspondence. I, therefore, compliment the committee on visiting the region, recognising the issues involved and meeting and dealing with people. Members recognised the dignity of people in dire circumstances who found that they were coming face to face with others in a position to offer them some solace or assistance.

I listened to the contribution of the Minister of State and the eloquent contributions made by committee members who were members of the delegation to Ethiopia. It was heartening to hear such a positive report on the performance of Irish Aid and NGOs, the work of which is commendable. Ireland has a long history in this regard. Even when we had no money or Government, Irish missionaries charted the way. It is good to see our NGOs, missionaries and the Government are supporting this work.

The Minister of State put her finger on it when she stated we were building Ireland's influence in countries that would in the future number among our political and trading partners. It was an important statement to make. The nature of the sustainable change we are helping to achieve will lead to a transition from aid dependency to locally driven development. Improving trade is the kernel of what we should be trying to do, as it would be to our mutual benefit. Our motivations for doing so are right, in that it would not be selfish. What specific measures are we putting in place to promote and develop these essential trade links?

I listened with interest to and agreed fully with my colleague, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who discussed the issue of conflict resolution. Four weeks ago I was invited to present a paper on the Northern Ireland peace process at a meeting in Colombo that was attended by 56 of the member states of Parliamentarians for Global Action, PGA. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who later told me Ireland's peace process was a template for conflict resolution in other areas. This raises a question for the Minister of State, particularly in the light of recent events. The former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, and the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, have been working with others - Deputy Adams was there also - since last April in the Basque country where ETA has resiled from its conflict of more than 30 years.

What steps are we taking to set up conflict resolution instruments, for example, institutes, which might have been mentioned by Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl? We could integrate them into Irish Aid, but they would be useful beyond Irish Aid also. Ireland has a good international reputation and is well respected because of its neutrality and approach to issues such as this. We could be helpful in various areas. I recently visited the Caucasus where there are tensions and conflicts. There is a similar situation in the Middle East. Ireland has a considerable opportunity to be constructive and helpful and I hope there would be a reciprocal benefit as a consequence of this work.

Thankfully, Irish aid is unconditional. My colleague, Senator Maureen O'Sullivan, mentioned China.

I apologise. There are controversial issues surrounding the provision of aid in Africa. The Obama regime is imposing abortion through population control instruments as a condition of its aid to Africa, which is a source of significant controversy within the United States. What will be our position on these issues in Busan? We have no entitlement to stand by as an uninterested party while this is happening. There needs to be an ethical and moral foundation to our international aid. I, therefore, encourage the Government to take a stance on all of these issues.

The last contributor will be Deputy Dan Neville. As there is a vote in the Seanad, some members will need to depart, but I hope they will be able to rejoin us.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and welcome the Minister of State and wish the delegation every success at the conference. Irish Aid's effectiveness is second to the World Bank's. Having experienced such long-term effectiveness, communicating its actual level to the people is a problem. It is through small acts that one can see Irish Aid's effectiveness. For example, if under a programme someone is given 20 laying hens to be tended at the rear of his or her house, it will improve his or her income and the opportunities for his or her family. We were told stories of this happening. Another person under the same programme set up a business and is now employing 56 people. If we could communicate how effective a small act can be, one that is insignificant in our calculations but highly significant in Ethiopia, some in the national media would not be suggesting we should eliminate Third World aid because of the economic crisis.

I do not want to repeat the comments of others but while we were in Ethiopia, Deputy Mac Lochlainn asked why we would give a man fish when we could give him a fishing rod. We repeated his question while reflecting on what we had witnessed. We could provide examples of farmers who doubled their low incomes through investment in beehives and increased the productiveness of potato development by a factor of four. We are discussing annual incomes that are often less than what an Irish person might spend on a night out. I do not like calling it poverty, it is standard of living.

We stayed overnight in Mek'ele, which is where Live Aid's contributions sought to relieve the effects of famine. We could see how the people were positive. People with a very low standard of living seemed very positive about their future and the development of life opportunities for themselves and their families. We interacted with people on very low incomes who brought their children through university. Nobody could determine what opportunities the kids at a school we visited would have but some of them will go to third level education despite incomes equivalent, at least in case, to €1,000 per year. That level of income, or even less, is common, and those were in the productive areas. Some people earned €1 per week.

GOAL took 40% of kids off the streets of Addis Ababa. If we could communicate such examples, we would not have people talking in such terms about Irish Aid. I am concerned that with the forthcoming budget there might not be full understanding of the level of contribution that we are making and our type of investment. People have spoken about effectiveness of funding and that has always been one of my concerns. With what I saw in Ethiopia, it is being used effectively. An Irish priest has been very critical of international aid as volunteers were coming in with much cash, feeding the people and moving out, but Irish people empowered people to sustain a standard of living.

Civil society involvement is very complex and it is not simply a case that there is not enough involvement, although that is true. When a prime minister indicates that the Ethiopian Government is determined to eliminate famine in the country, one must respond to that commitment by a country where civil society is not as involved as it should be. We must tackle that while encouraging those countries to see the value of the civil society and how it can contribute. Ethiopia only has one member of the Opposition elected, whereas previously there were 150 members, although they did not take their seats. Perhaps they should have been involved in trying to develop a system. The Prime Minister is extremely convincing and he makes a very strong case but he is regarded as one of the most senior contributors to African political society. When the African Union wants to present somebody who is effective on the international scene, it would select the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

We can be simplistic about how Africa is developing and at certain stages perhaps we should accept that civil society must be developed. I have heard people saying we should examine our aid and the contribution where countries are not very involved in civil society. I would be careful about that and take into account the people who would be affected. We should help in developing that aspect of society. I am happy with how it is operating in Ethiopia but I would be concerned about the next generation and the transfer to a democracy acceptable to us. At the top there is a firm commitment in that regard but we have heard that down the ladder there is much inefficiency. We should work with what is there and encourage development.

It is a pity that more members of the committee are not in a position to go out and see what is happening. I have been to Africa and saw what happened over the course of 20 years. Every time I see it I learn something about how vital it is for the developed world to contribute to the growth of the Third World through positive action. We export €20 million of goods to Ethiopia but it only exports €1 million of goods to us. The development of trade on an equal basis is also important.

Another element of empowering these countries and ensuring a standard of living that is aspired to and is expected by people in Ethiopia and other African states is the implementation of a broad approach as opposed to just aid. There are many institutions other than Irish Aid and the like which can contribute to the development of the African communities. On a previous visit 15 years ago I was extremely concerned about another state's aid to another African country that was being used for political purposes, and I hope that has changed in the meantime.

The issue of civil society has been raised and it should be noted that our delegation will provide a comprehensive report to this committee in the near future. We raised the matter of civil society, anti-terrorism laws and other issues of concern to non-governmental and human rights organisations. We raised them with senior politicians, the Speaker of the House, the chair of the foreign affairs committee and the Prime Minister. Deputy Neville has covered the complexity of the issues, which we raised with senior politicians. This committee will have a report in the near future on that.

We will have a comprehensive report. Deputy Mac Lochlainn has already submitted a report and perhaps the others will send us a report on the reaction to what they saw in Ethiopia. Before handing over to the Minister of State I should say that Ireland's reputation abroad is second to none and at an all-time high. The Minister of State has attended many trade delegations in previous weeks.

At every opportunity we raised the issue of trade in our high-level meetings as we feel it is extremely important. We raised the matter with the head of the African Union, the Ethiopian Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House. Trade was very much to the front of our minds, along with the other important issues that other members raised as well. Trade is covered in the African strategy, which the Minister of State will speak on. We have had a number of trade delegations to Africa and I hope there will be other trade delegations in future. Africa is an area of tremendous growth and although I am not linking trade with aid, there are opportunities for Ireland, given our good reputation abroad now.

I thank members for the contributions. I will be going to Busan with my backbone highly strengthened by the contribution of this committee. I will lead from the front as we are rightly proud of this country's long-established work in this area, which has been achieved with the support of the Parliament and public. I understand we are in these times of real hardship. It is important that we are plain and honest about how we spend our money. Therefore, the visit the committee made recently to Ethiopia, and indeed other visits by other members with the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, AWEPA, for example, means members are returning to Ireland with first hand information about the communities they visit. That is vital.

In terms of communications, one can see the contrast between Tigre and the areas the members visited in Ethiopia that were subject to famine in the past, leading to those dreadful scenes on television. In those parts of Ethiopia now, which have the same climatic conditions as parts of Somalia, development is actually working and shown to be working. One can point directly to the fact that it does work when one sees that and, very sadly, the scenes we still see in Somalia. Somalia is an area of conflict and while there is some development work, it is very difficult to get in there and do that work. We are bringing a positive message that development works, which is extremely important.

There is another element. I am trying to pull the strands of the visit together, as well as the points made by the Deputies. As a result of the reputation Ireland has in these countries, one gets access at the highest levels so one is able to raise issues relating to civil society, human rights and so forth. I was able to do that in Malawi. One is also listened to. One might not see immediate results but I believe it makes a difference, which is very important. This morning I met with representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who were raising issues about decent work and its importance from the civil society perspective in various countries. The NGOs constantly raise these issues as well. I believe we can make a difference by all of us working together, raising these issues and using our voice. I realise there are difficulties in this regard, particularly the squeezing of the NGOs. I met them in Malawi and the committee members met them in Ethiopia. We must constantly raise our voice and I believe we make a difference in that regard.

I will try to answer the different questions together. Deputy Byrne, Deputy O'Sullivan and others raised the issue of what we call new donors, China and other donors, and their engagement with Africa. We have no intention of watering down our standards, either at Busan or elsewhere, in terms of human rights standards, situations at work and so forth, and the relationship we have with our partner countries. That is not at issue but what we are trying to do is influence other countries that might not have subscribed in the past to agreements, standards and so forth. We want to get them to at least subscribe to certain basic standards, which is what we want to achieve in Busan. The Korean Government and the people who are organising the forum are also working in that regard. That is what I mean when I say it would be a real win to engage those countries, to ensure we can influence them. The issue of China was raised when I was in Africa. These issues are interconnected, but it is about using our influence, not watering down our standards in any way.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl and others raised the issue of working in conflict areas. There is a conflict resolution unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and wherever we are working we engage with and support conflict resolution. We have our own experience in that regard as well. We work in fragile states and areas of conflict.

Climate change, which was also raised by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl and others, is a hugely important issue for all of us. We are working on issues such as conservation agriculture, improving agricultural productivity and mitigating against climate change. That will continue to be a very important issue for us. It is also an important issue in Busan.

Deputy Murphy raised three issues on behalf of Dóchas and others. We have been working closely with Dóchas and the NGOs in the preparation for Busan and in working on the document. They will be working with us in Busan. I can say "Yes" to all the issues raised; they are all very important. The involvement of the NGOs in that regard will continue.

Deputy O'Sullivan raised a couple of other matters, including our commitment to AIDS. We are meeting our obligations in that regard and the commitments that were made. It is approximately €100 million per year, and it is one of the four core areas for Irish Aid. That is a central issue. I believe I responded to the other matters the Deputy raised. On the question of meeting other African parliamentarians, I will take those opportunities.

Senator Walsh and others raised the issue of trade. Again, it is obvious that because we have a good reputation in Africa generally, it assists us with regard to trade. I recently led a trade mission to South Africa, and how well Ireland is recognised for its development work in Africa was raised with us many times. We carry out development work in South Africa as well, but it is also close to many of our programme countries. When I was there I took the opportunity to meet with our ambassadors to five of our programme countries that are close to South Africa. We discussed how we can advance trading opportunities as well as the development work that is done in those countries. The Africa strategy is there to ensure that we pull together the various strands of our work in Africa.

On Senator Walsh's concerns about abortion, Ireland has made its position on abortion clear at the United Nations. That is Ireland's position.

The current US Administration's policy with regard to aid makes it conditional on population control-----

I would dispute Senator Walsh's interpretation of that but I will not say anything further on it. The Senator is entitled to his view but I can only speak for Ireland in that regard.

The Minister should stick with the agenda. We can deal with USAID at a different time.

I did not wish to avoid responding to the Senator. Ireland has made its position clear at the United Nations in that regard.

I hope I have responded to all the questions. As members know, the White Paper review is being carried out and we will proceed to public consultation in the new year. All the issues that were raised at this meeting are relevant to the review of the White Paper so I look forward to engaging with the committee in that regard and also after Busan on the progress we will make. I thank the members for their very strong support for the work Irish Aid is doing. I also compliment the officials. I have not been in the Department for long and this work has been ongoing for many years. I compliment everybody who works in Irish Aid, both here and abroad, and the NGOs, who do great work as well.

I wish to make an observation. I compliment the Minister and the officials on their work. With regard to trade, let us say an Irish business wishes to establish a market. Is there a point of contact available where they could identify the type of products for which particular countries in Africa would be open for trade and where they could be put in touch with the relevant people? Do we have that mechanism in place?

With regard to the US and the aid conditionality, my understanding is the opposite. However, I will double check. If I get information, I will seek back-up information to confirm it. What is Ireland's position in Busan on aid having conditionality attached by any country?

We need to know the facts first and there is no point in anticipating the answer until we get the facts.

Regarding trade, the first point of call is the embassy. We have embassies all over the continent of Africa and we are accredited in countries where we do not have an embassy. I recommend people contact the embassy or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has a trade promotion unit. Enterprise Ireland will have a presence on the African continent and will open an office in Johannesburg, South Africa in January. The meeting I had with the ambassadors was attended by representatives of Enterprise Ireland and there is ongoing engagement. We are trying to take a whole of Government approach to these issues so that they are not stratified into different Departments. My practical advice to anyone is to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the embassy of a specific country. We place the focus on trade in our embassies. This was one of the commitments given when the Department adopted the name the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the trade promotion function. We strengthened our embassies to deal with trade issues.

I hope that in next year's programmes we will examine the effect on trade promotion over 12 months. The Minister of State can make a contribution on that point.

I thank the embassy, which was extremely helpful to us. Mr. Liam McGowan was extremely helpful and informative and went out of his way to ensure the success of our trip.

I thank Deputy Neville and I am sure his comments are reflected by other members on the deputation. I thank the Minister of State and her officials for the informative contributions. The forum has great potential to influence better aid policy from the donor and recipient countries. I am grateful that the Minister of State has set out her vision of what can be achieved in Busan. I look forward to playing a constructive role on behalf of the Minister of State in the parliamentary session, which will be held on Tuesday. I will be taking part in a panel discussion on the influence of parliament on aid. It is a comprehensive programme and there will be opportunities for the Irish, particularly NGOs, to contribute. I will welcome the Minister of State to the committee after the Busan conference sometime in the new year. Our agenda for the next few weeks has been laid out. Hopefully the message will be positive and the message should be that strengthening the impact of aid and reducing poverty levels is at the heart of the Busan forum. These are strong words and this is the agenda of the forum. We hope that all donor countries and Brazil and China play their role in aid effectiveness.