Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Oct 2006

Vol. 184 No. 17

White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Seanad on Ireland's first White Paper on overseas development aid or assistance. The White Paper on Irish Aid was launched by the Taoiseach and I on 18 September last. We were joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. The White Paper has been widely welcomed and praised by everyone in Ireland who is interested in development, as well as by our partners in the developing world. The launch in the Mansion House, at which there was standing room only, was attended by more than 500 representatives of missionary orders, non-governmental organisations and the rest of the development community.

The White Paper, which is an important document, has been published at a critical time in the development of Irish aid. Ireland's capacity to make a real difference in the developing world has never been greater. The Government has pledged to reach the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of GNP on official development assistance by 2012, which would be well ahead of the EU target date of 2015. Ireland will ultimately spend approximately €1.5 billion, which is an enormous sum of money, on overseas development each year.

When I took responsibility for overseas development assistance two years ago, I promised to make the 0.7% commitment the subject of a proper timeframe. I made it clear that it would be proper and appropriate to publish a White Paper on this issue for the first time. I said the White Paper would set out in concrete terms Ireland's objectives in the area of development assistance. I am proud the White Paper has been completed, exactly two years later. It will act as a road map for the expansion of the Irish aid programme well into the future.

When one considers that Ireland's total development aid budget was €142 million in 1996, it is clear there will be a massive increase in our spending on aid. A commitment of the magnitude I have outlined demands a matching determination to ensure the additional moneys are spent well. It requires that we plan carefully for the future and show the Irish people how and where their money will be spent. The White Paper is a blueprint for the growth of Ireland's official aid programme. It sets out clear priorities for Ireland's expenditure in this area. It was drafted in dialogue with interests in the developing world, our multilateral partners and various non-governmental organisations. It was shaped by consultation with people throughout the country. The public supported 11 meetings at various locations by expressing viewpoints and forming attitudes on those occasions. The opinions which were expressed at those public meetings have become part and parcel of the language of the White Paper. The ideas which were outlined have been captured within the document.

The White Paper on Irish Aid, which was agreed across all Departments, is unique as a full expression of this country's development aid policies. The Departments of Health and Children, Agriculture and Food and Finance, for example, have expressed their agreement with the ideas outlined in the document. It was critical to acquire the agreement of the Department of Finance because it will play an integral part in the development of the Irish aid programme by sanctioning the money needed for that expansion. I would like to record my deep gratitude for the work of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, who not only provided significant financial resources but also contributed many ideas during the writing and shaping of the document under discussion.

The White Paper details the Government's response to the clear wish of the Irish people that this country should show leadership in the area of international development. Ireland has always had such a position in the fields of development assistance and aid. Irish missionaries trod a well-worn path to Africa and other parts of the world for hundreds of years before the State started to speak about putting in place an Irish aid programme. They created a culture of acceptance of Irish people in poor countries. Their work meant Irish people were not considered to be going abroad with the colonial baggage of those from countries with superpower status. Ireland is seen as a world player — an influential moral voice — in the development area for those reasons. The White Paper on Irish Aid tries to capture and build on the goodwill that has been generated by missionary workers, including priests, over many generations.

The Oireachtas has a key role to play in providing leadership in the development sphere. Irish Aid has always enjoyed a close working relationship with the Oireachtas. The White Paper commits the Oireachtas to developing that relationship. It is important to ensure Members of the Oireachtas are informed of and engage with the work of the Irish aid programme. The Government values and wants to build on the broad cross-party support enjoyed by development co-operation. I assure all Senators that the Government would like more and more of them to visit the Irish Aid programme countries so they can become acquainted with the Irish Aid programme. I ask them to spread the message of good news to the people in their local areas with whom they deal as busy public representatives.

The debates held in the Oireachtas facilitate detailed public discussion of what Irish Aid does, and how and why it does it. I thank the Cathaoirleach for generously giving the House time to discuss the issue of overseas development on many occasions since I became Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Seanad has taken a real lead in this respect. I would like the other House, of which I happen to be a Member, to follow the lead of the Seanad in this regard by opening up to more regular formatted debates about the overseas development field.

In the White Paper, the Oireachtas is invited to rename the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs as the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid. We are inviting the Oireachtas to make such a change, as we cannot instruct it to do so in the White Paper, which is a pure expression of Government policy. This modification has been suggested because we think it would be appropriate and timely for the committee to consider changing its name and giving equal standing to the overseas development aid and foreign policy priorities. The White Paper ensures, in effect, that development assistance and Irish aid will be at the heart of Irish foreign policy. It is the first time that has been stated so clearly in a public policy pronouncement or document. The key point in the White Paper is that development assistance should be at the heart of Ireland's foreign policy. If the name change is effected by the committee, it will reflect that the work of Irish Aid has a much greater role in Ireland's overall foreign policy. That is also what influenced me to rename our efforts "Irish Aid" as distinct from "Development Co-operation Ireland". I wanted to make the strong integrationist link between our foreign policy and development assistance. In many ways, development assistance is a clear and practical expression of the values we hold given our historical experience of colonisation and famine. Irish Aid stands as a proud manifestation of the idealism we have as a people.

Several Members have travelled to see Irish Aid's work in developing countries. Having spoken to those Members, I am convinced it is the best way to understand what Irish Aid is trying to achieve and the context in which it works. It also helps to strengthen the parliamentary systems in our partner countries by showing them the key role that Parliament plays in our democratic system. I encourage other interested Members to do likewise and the Department of Foreign Affairs will help with travel arrangements. Members are often criticised for visits abroad with the usual media carping, ignoring that it is parliamentarians opening themselves up to global experiences. These visits are not junkets, as depicted in some newspapers, but informative experiences. I was shocked and moved on my first visit to Africa. It had a life-changing element to it.

The White Paper sets out guiding principles for the growth of the programme. Reducing poverty and assisting the poorest people in the poorest countries is the overarching objective of Irish Aid. This poverty focus was praised by the OECD and other international observers. Ireland has a strong world reputation for the effectiveness of its development assistance.

Africa will remain the principal geographic focus for the programme because it is the poorest part of the developing world. The promotion of human rights, directly and indirectly, will continue to be central to Ireland's foreign policy and the work of Irish Aid. The Department of Foreign Affairs will work to ensure coherence and a joined-up approach to development across all areas of Government. The White Paper recommended the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to encourage this.

Irish Aid will continue to remain completely untied to the use of Irish goods and services. Ireland is unique in this regard, making us one of the most virtuous donors. The White Paper is essentially characterised by new initiatives and the best practice that already has grown up around the programme in the past 30 years. These principles will not be altered even with changes in Government or Ministers.

As the programme grows financially, our engagements will be broadened and deepened. The number of key partner countries will be increased in the medium term, from eight to ten. Care must be shown in how the programme is rolled out in new countries. That is why I opted for a smaller increase in partner countries. Malawi will be the first so designated as it fits the criteria for new partner countries. The White Paper contains more specific details as to why Malawi was chosen. We will deepen our focus on working in fragile states. Building on our existing activities, including our role in UN peacekeeping operations, our efforts on Sierra Leone and Liberia, both countries with hugely challenging operating environments, will be focused.

While Africa remains our main focus, we must also respond to need in other parts. To this end, the regional programme in south-east Asia will be built on, working from our most recently designated key partner country, Vietnam. The opening of the aid programme and embassy in Vietnam is a way of branching out to Cambodia and Laos, which are in dire straits. We will also be increasing our responses to humanitarian emergencies wherever they occur. With the renewed financial commitment and moneys from the Department of Finance, more is now spent on emergency aid. When I become Minister of State two years ago, Ireland spent on average €20 million a year on humanitarian emergencies. This year, the budget stands at €60 million. It will increase even more as we approach the 0.7% target in 2012.

The White Paper calls for the establishment of a rapid response initiative to enable Ireland to respond more effectively to the sudden onset of emergencies. This initiative includes the pre-positioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies to disaster areas and the drawing up of a roster of skilled individuals from the public and private sectors, including the Defence Forces, for deployment at short notice to emergency situations.

Ireland will forge a distinctive role in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution and peace building, drawing on our own experience in and knowledge of these areas. From our experience of conflict over the past 30 years, the Anglo-Irish section of the Department of Foreign Affairs has acquired particular skills. These can be brought to bear in other conflict situations. However, we will not replicate what other countries have done. For example, Norway has done fantastic work in the Middle East. We do not believe we will be duplicating Norwegian efforts but instead bringing unique Irish skills to conflict resolution. A dedicated unit for conflict analysis and resolution will be established in the Department of Foreign Affairs. It will not simply be a Civil Service-led operation but will grow organically, involving ongoing co-ordinated contact with non-governmental organisations, the Oireachtas and others. It will not simply be a unit in the Department but will have strong local and global impact.

A hunger task force will be established to examine the particular contribution Ireland can make to tackling the root causes of food insecurity, especially in Africa. In addition, the existing corps of Irish development volunteers serving across the developing world will be expanded and assisted. To that end, an Irish Aid information and volunteering centre will be opened which will make more and better information available to the public about volunteering opportunities for individuals, institutions and communities. For the first time, Irish Aid will have an accessible shop-front presence providing comprehensive information on all aspects of development and volunteering.

Development co-operation is a contract between donor and recipient, with obligations on both sides which they must honour in good faith. Recipient countries must ensure our aid gets to where it is most needed and that no moneys are diverted from this cause. They must use resources for the public good and work to combat corruption across all areas of society. We must insist on a steadfast adherence to democratic principles and human rights. To this end, we are establishing a new governance unit within Irish Aid which will be a focal point for all our activities in this area. We already allocate significant resources towards governance within Irish Aid and the development programme generally. The purpose of the new governance unit is to co-ordinate our activities effectively in this area and to ensure we are transparently accountable in this regard to the public and to this House.

There is a quid pro quo in terms of development. Enormous sums of money have been committed by Ireland and many other EU countries on a bilateral basis. Like Ireland, they have made a commitment to achieve the target of 0.7% by 2015 in the EU collective sense. The amounts of money being committed are staggering. By 2010, the commitment by the EU 15 will bring €20 billion extra into play in the developing world. This requires that our partner countries are clear about what we expect of them in terms of governance and adherence to basic democratic principles and to the fight against corruption. With those amounts of money being dedicated, we must be accountable to our citizens and taxpayers by providing adequate assurance that the money we are spending is being used effectively and for the purposes to which it is dedicated. As we expand this programme, it is important that we can guarantee the public that its money is being spent well and appropriately.

Ireland will continue to take a lead in the fight against the scourge of HIV-AIDS. Our spending on HIV-AIDS and other diseases exceeds €100 million a year, more than 10% of the total Irish Aid budget. I was especially proud last year to attend the millennium summit in the UN General Assembly at which the Taoiseach made a strong pledge on our target of reaching 0.7% by 2012. In a decision made in conjunction with myself and Irish Aid, he also announced that we would double the amount we are spending on HIV-AIDS. This has increased from €50 million per year in 2005 to €100 million this year. This decision, announced by the Taoiseach when we attended the UN summit on AIDS last June, was widely and strongly supported by the international community. This was a great occasion, even though there was something of a domestic crisis blowing up at home at the same time, which meant that much of what happened in New York was lost to the public.

I do not remember that crisis.

I am glad, nor do I believe people will remember the current crisis when they consider the good budgets we have introduced and the way in which we have run the country and will continue to do in coming months.

It was heartening to see the welcome accorded to the Taoiseach. He received the strongest applause of any world leader in recognition of Ireland's major commitment to the fight against AIDS.

Last week, with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I met with former United States President, Bill Clinton, to renew our co-operation in addressing this global crisis. In the past three years, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the Government of Mozambique, we have reached the stage where more than 250,000 people receive HIV counselling and testing in Mozambique, with 83 facilities offering services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission and more than 20,000 people accessing anti-retroviral treatment. This has been achieved in a short timeframe.

People sometimes ask why we work with the Clinton Foundation. We do so because it is recognised at a global level as one of the few organisations that can drive down the cost of anti-retroviral treatments. In the past six or seven years, the price has gone from $10,000 per person per year to $150. Much of this has been achieved through the good work of Mr. Clinton and his foundation. They have put pressure on international drug companies and worked to persuade them it is in their own interests to lower prices. What the pharmaceutical producers of these anti-retroviral products get in return is a greatly expanded treatment scene and increased volume of sales.

We decided not merely to have a mid-term review but to devise a completely new five-year agreement with the Clinton Foundation at a cost of €70 million. It is one of the few organisations that can upscale its activity by bringing more people into treatment in a short timescale. We are proud of this association. Irish Aid funds are being used by the foundation to make real and significant progress. Many people asked Mr. Clinton why he should get this €70 million and he was clear in pointing out that the foundation does not retain the money. Rather, it flows directly to the host governments.

Any Member with a medical qualification will be interested in our co-operation with Lesotho. Our work there is unique and different because it will be the first time a country will be allowed to have universal testing for HIV-AIDS. This has not happened to date in Africa. There will also be a real-time evaluation by United States academic health institutions. They will evaluate, as it is becoming operational, this particular roll-out of anti-retroviral treatment in Lesotho. This will add greatly to our ability to transplant the lessons learned in Lesotho to the other African countries in which we operate.

The new agreement between Irish Aid and the Clinton Foundation, which grew out of a series of meetings between myself, Mr. Clinton and our officials in Mozambique, Lesotho and New York, will run for five years. The agreement will see us expand our successful co-operation to Lesotho. Our plans for Lesotho are very ambitious. It is a country that is experiencing one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Again, our co-operation will focus on the development of treatment programmes but, critically, we will also recruit and train HIV-AIDS health workers to ensure there is an adequate infrastructure in place to administer newly available drugs. It is my sincere hope that our work in Lesotho, in the provision of universal access to testing and treatment, will become a model for other countries.

The White Paper recognises that public awareness and support are critical to the success of the Irish Aid programme. While communicating the challenges that face the developing world, we must also present the success of our projects, such as the impact we are making in fighting HIV-AIDS in Mozambique. As Minister of State with responsibility for Irish Aid, I will continue to work hard to ensure an increasing number of people are made aware of the important work we do on their behalf. There is a simple message that we can convey. Every day, through Irish Aid, our taxpayers are helping the world's poorest people. Every day, Irish Aid saves lives.

The challenges may appear daunting at times, but we have many examples of progress whereby Irish Aid is having a definite, positive and sustaining impact. In Lesotho in 1999, for instance, enrolment in primary schools was at 57%. With Ireland's support, by 2003, this figure had increased to 82%. In Ethiopia, through our safety nets programme, Irish Aid is keeping hunger at bay for more than 6 million Ethiopians every year. With Ireland's support, immunisation rates against childhood diseases in Uganda are now at 84% for the entire country.

Irish Aid is helping to realise the human potential that is in people who want only a fair chance for a fair life. In doing so, it is saying something important about who we are and the values that are important to us. The launch of the White Paper is not the end of a process but the beginning of something more ambitious than ever before. There is much to be done to implement all the recommendations within the document and I sincerely hope that this House will play its part. As the Taoiseach said at the launch of the White Paper: "The fate of others is more than a matter of concern to us; it reflects on and affects all of us."

I thank Members for their unique and helpful interventions and advice since I became Minister of State. I stress the genuinely non-political character of this aspect of our foreign policy. Many elements of foreign policy, ranging from Northern Ireland to the UN and other interventions and stances, are highly charged and political and occasionally lead to cross and disputatious words in both Houses.

This, however, is a non-political area and one to which all parties have contributed. I think most particularly of my predecessors, Deputies O'Donnell, Kitt, Burton and Jim O'Keeffe. A great many Ministers of State in different political colours have contributed enormously to the development of this programme. It is highly regarded at international level and the purpose of the White Paper is precisely to provide a much larger platform through which aid can become an integral part of our foreign policy and of how we express ourselves in the world. I thank the members for their patience.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his comments and presentation. It is not the first time the Minister of State has addressed this House on the issues of Ireland's aid budget and international responsibilities. He brings great determination, flair and energy to his portfolio and I congratulate him on his efforts to date.

The Minister of State has correctly asserted that Irish overseas aid is not a party political issue. We must ensure that Ireland's responsibilities to the third world and the impoverished remain at the top of our political agenda. We have not seen politics at its best in the past week and we will not replay those old points. It is important to recognise that this White Paper and debate represent politics at its best. They show how the political leaders of this country can ensure that resources are put to their best use as we fulfil our international obligations.

Overseas aid is not simply a political issue, it is a moral issue. Ireland and the EU have a responsibility to see that we do more than merely what may be termed "our bit", but become world leaders in international aid.

Aside from the party politics of the debate, the public has a huge interest in this topic. Ten or 15 years ago the public did not tune into environmental issues, it took some time. It is only now that the public views the state of the world's environment as it should. Overseas aid and the debate around trade and aid are now subjects of great political interest to much of the electorate. This is a good thing because it challenges us and demands we respond in the fashion expected by the Irish people.

The Taoiseach committed, some time ago, to reach the UN aid target of 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately this was not met, but a new target is in place and it is imperative that we meet our new deadline date. We cannot allow the poorest of the poor to be disappointed on a second occasion. I acknowledge that the Irish record on overseas aid spending is very good by world standards, however it has not reached the level we would have sought to be at by this stage. Let us ensure that the new target date is not avoided.

If we are serious in seeking to meet the new target then this commitment should be put in legislation. This point has been made previously by my colleagues in the Fine Gael party and I am sure the Minister of State has heard it often. Examples of this exist already in a number of areas of Government policy. The legislation underpinning the National Pension Reserve Fund saw a political decision taken to have a pension reserve set up for the future. The percentage of our overall budget to be contributed to the National Pension Reserve Fund was enshrined in law. This does not require an annual Dáil review because the amount is set in legislation. Something similar could be done regarding our overseas aid target of €1.5 billion of GDP. This would remove party politics from the equation and would be a firm indication of a political promise becoming a reality.

Bringing forward an overseas aid development Bill and specifying the 0.7% of GDP to be allocated would, finally, copperfasten our commitment to our international obligations. The Irish people would welcome this because they have a great sense of responsibility for the less well-off around the world. This is evident in the response to every international disaster, most recently the tsunami crisis. We are excellent at responding to a crisis with aid, now we need a structured overseas aid plan. Nothing could be more secure in underpinning our commitment than legislation. I ask the Minister of State to give this some consideration.

The White Paper must be welcomed because it will be a benchmark indicating where we are going on this issue. Hopefully it may serve the same function for some of our European neighbours and countries such as the United States where, if one considers the core figures, the same level of international commitment does not exist. The sooner we enact these commitments the easier it will be to put moral and political pressure on our European colleagues and other countries around the world to match, and perhaps surpass, our commitments.

The White Paper refers to newly designated countries and the fact that Malawi will be the first such country. I welcome this because I have a particular personal interest in Malawi. In 1993 I visited Malawi as an Oireachtas representative acting as a supervisor of the referendum. For the first time in 20 or 25 years the people of Malawi were allowed to vote to determine their political direction. The dictator, Dr. Kamuzu Banda, had held office for some time and allowed the referendum on whether the one-party dictatorship should continue after much political pressure. The people of Malawi voted in favour of a multi-party, democratic system of government and there was great hope that a new future would be carved for the country. A new administration was put in place and the reign of Dr. Banda came to an end.

Unfortunately, for many reasons the country did not flourish politically, socially or economically as we had expected. The Malawi of 2006 is not much better off than the Malawi of 1993. I hope that with more Irish aid and a stronger international focus on the country we will be able to offer greater assistance to Malawi.

There are dozens of countries and hundreds of regions we could mention and focus on. Unfortunately this is not possible because of the size of Ireland and its budget. No matter what we do and no matter how high a percentage of our GDP is devoted to overseas aid we will not solve all of the world's problems. In that regard, it is appropriate and sensible that the White Paper, even when it moves beyond aspiration and leads to action, does not proclaim we will solve all the issues facing the Third World today. By targeting our resources and ensuring what we do is done well and effectively, we can begin to make a difference.

The Minister of State mentioned political responsibility and I note his suggestion on the new interdepartmental committee on development aid, to be chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This committee will result in a new focus on an issue to which the public is finally tuning in. An Oireachtas committee on development aid could be a powerful tool. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, as currently constituted, does a lot of work but, as with all the other Oireachtas committees, it is under-resourced and under-staffed, as the Minister of State will know from having served on committees. If the new committee is to work well, it will certainly need more resources. At best, most of the Oireachtas committees are in a position to meet only once every fortnight or three weeks because of problems such as a lack of accommodation and recording facilities. We need to sort out these issues. I look forward to the new committee playing a major role.

I support the initiative the Minister of State is to launch towards the end of the year, the scheme to build strong links between the schools. If the school-going population of this country assumes an ever-more-active role regarding development aid and becomes politicised in respect of it, it will exert on us political and moral pressure to ensure we honour our commitments. Bringing the schools on board will be very effective.

The concept of financial accountability may not weigh well against that of looking after the poorest of the poor, but it is very important that the euros contributed be spent well. The Comptroller and Auditor General has made some recommendations and expressed some concerns in this regard and we must reflect seriously on them because we are responsible not only for ensuring the budget is maximised but also that the allocation is used to the maximum benefit and spent where needed. We can reflect on what the Comptroller and Auditor General is saying on some other occasion. He has, in his usual non-partisan and non-political fashion, raised serious concerns that must be taken on board.

At the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005, the Taoiseach said, "It is an affront to our common humanity, five years after the Millennium Summit, that 30,000 children die each day from easily preventable diseases, or that 100 million people go to bed hungry, or that 100 million children are not receiving a basic education." These words are included in the Foreword to the White Paper. They outline a major world problem and the White Paper serves as an attempt to tackle it.

Ireland is now a wealthy nation and is reckoned to be eighth among 177 countries in this regard. With wealth come duties, responsibilities and obligations. When Ireland was a poor country, it relied on emigration and the kindness of others and therefore it is now payback time. Every hour, 1,200 children die mostly from preventable diseases and they receive no media attention, only the attention of their grieving parents.

We have set our official aid target at 0.7% of our GNP and we expect to achieve it by 2012, which is well ahead of the EU target date of 2015. This will result in a sum of approximately €1.5 billion by 2012.

In 1996, overseas development assistance amounted to €142 million. One will note the great increase in the aid we make available, but is not enough just to give aid as we are also responsible for ensuring it is used wisely and does not end up in the hands of some dictator. This happened some years ago when Mengistu used the aid he got from the Europeans to slaughter his own people in Ethiopia. I spoke about this many times in the House and it could happen again, and it is therefore important that we monitor the spending of our aid.

There is a need to prevent AIDS and we are taking the lead in this regard. Our spending on HIV-AIDS and other conditions exceeds €100 million per year. In the three years of our partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the Government of Mozambique — I heard the Minister of State mention this — more than 500,000 people have been receiving HIV counselling and testing and 83 facilities are offering a service for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

While there is a moral imperative for wealthy countries like Ireland to provide assistance, their partner countries have a responsibility to use that assistance well. The aim should be to allocate aid to where it is needed and we must insist on steadfast adherence to democratic principles and human rights.

I express my appreciation for all our missionaries, including priests, brothers and nuns, who, over the years, went to work in the poorest countries of the world. Not only did they spread the faith but they also helped to establish hospitals, schools and small local industries. As the number of Irish religious missionaries declines, we rely increasingly on lay missionaries and NGOs to do their work, and that is why the White Paper is so important. It outlines the positive values of Irish people, their abhorrence of injustice and poverty, and their determination to assist the developing world.

We are no strangers in this country to the problems of terror and famine, and of our occupation for so long on the part of our nearest imperialist neighbour, and we are therefore glad to help others out of the imperialism of multinational exploitation, which faces many of the poorer countries. Huge multinationals rape the resources and wealth of the countries in question leaving very little for the native populations. It is in such countries we must monitor our aid to ensure it is spent on what we decide is necessary.

The Minister of State mentioned Malawi. It is a very poor country and is to be Ireland's ninth programme country. Some 12 or 15 years ago a delegation from the Brothers of St. John of God, comprising a doctor, brother and two nurses, went to Malawi and, without help from the Government of that country or anyone else, established a little hut which has now become a thriving hospital staffed by some Irish people and trained Malawians. This proves that with sufficient will and help, progress can be made.

The Minister of State mentioned we are to focus more on places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. The trouble about speaking after the Minister of State is that he has, in his wide-ranging speech, said everything that needs to be said. I will, however, repeat some points because action thereon is so necessary. The White Paper seeks considerable public involvement and refers to the rapid response initiative, which will include a roster of highly skilled individuals from Ireland, to be deployed at short notice to emergencies and disasters as they occur. Thanks be to God no triple-lock mechanism applies to this sort of force. A dedicated unit for conflict analysis and resolution is to be established in the Department of Foreign Affairs to share Ireland's experience and knowledge of conflict resolution and peace building. That is also very important, as is the Hunger Task Force, which draws on public and private sector expertise to tackle the root causes of food insecurity, especially in Africa.

We will open an information and volunteering centre to facilitate those wishing to volunteer to work in the developing world. A schools-linking scheme will be established so that our schoolchildren can see for themselves the challenges their counterparts face in harsher environments. When poorer nations are mentioned, we frequently think of Africa, but there are great areas of poverty in South America and in parts of the Philippines, Indonesia and so on. It is a worldwide problem, and some continents are worse than others.

The Minister of State mentioned an interdepartmental committee on development that will be established at Cabinet level and through which the Oireachtas will be invited to arrange regular debates on development in the Dáil and Seanad. The most important part of the White Paper is the establishment of a governance unit to monitor where we are sending aid, how we are doing it and so on. As the Acting Chairman will know, we receive a great many documents on our desks from all kinds of people throughout the country and the world. There is a great tendency to throw many of them in the bin because since there are so many, we are overwhelmed with information.

However, I ask Members to read this report. As the Minister of State said, it is expected, hoped and designed to be non-partisan. It is a Government response that will continue irrespective of who is in power. It is not a party political matter but something to help the poorest of the poor. I ask each Member to read this. If Members have copies they do not require, they should send them to a school, for example, where people might do projects on them and so on. The report is among the finest to be produced recently and merits our attention.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to the House. Like everyone else, I am delighted with the White Paper that he has produced. Perhaps I might begin by congratulating him on the energy and enthusiasm he has brought to the job. It is quite right that the Minister for Finance should have given him more funds to continue his work.

I am glad he has recognised that this is not a party political issue and praised those who came before him. It is very nice to see that happen in the House, and I congratulate him on that. I also congratulate him on the fact that this was an in-house document rather than one produced by consultants employed by the Department. It was quite right to recognise the calibre of those in the Department of Foreign Affairs and their knowledge of foreign aid. I have met many people from the Department working abroad and been very impressed by their expertise and tact.

It is quite right that citizens should know how taxpayers daily help the world's poorest people through Irish Aid. It saves lives every day. It is right to use the word "taxpayers" rather than calling it "Government money", because it is the taxpayers who contribute. It is nice that we should acknowledge that they are doing all this. We can proudly recognise all those who have been involved in aid work abroad. The Army has rendered noble service in various places, and we have a very good foothold, as Senator Lydon mentioned, in the shape of the missionary work carried out in Africa in particular. Their achievements in health and education there were truly phenomenal, giving us a good start.

The European Union is the greatest giver of aid to the developing world. Taking into account EU and individual government contributions, we give €90 per citizen, compared with €50 and €55 from Japan and the United States, respectively. Although some countries have an imperialist past, Ireland did not have one, and neither did some others in Europe. However, they too feel their obligation to support development, and the Minister of State is quite right to stress how important that is.

It is also important to recognise that aid from Ireland is untied. I had the privilege of speaking on Capitol Hill to an audience including many Members of the House of Representatives and a few from the Senate. They did not realise how much of their aid is tied. It is important to give developing countries a chance to make their own decisions. Of course, we should monitor them, but they will never grow up and develop the ability to make decisions themselves unless they are given a chance. We cannot constantly decide what will be done with whatever moneys we send them.

It is only right that the UN millennium development goals be addressed here, given their importance. The first is the elimination of poverty and hunger. We have been extraordinarily good at buying locally if a country has a famine problem in one part, since frequently there is not a famine problem across the state. The prosperity of those in the region where there is grain or whatever for sale is helped enormously by our buying locally. Sometimes we must pay more for transport. Malnutrition is still the great killer of infants and small children in the developing world.

Universal education is the second UN millennium development goal, and we want both boys and girls to complete primary education. It is important to remember that primary education in developing countries does not always start at five and finish at 12. One can find children five years or more apart in the same class who have had to drop out of school occasionally for some reason.

Gender issues are addressed in the document, but with regard to education, the sexual rights of children and adolescents have not been emphasised sufficiently. If girls must make early marriages because of local tradition, and particularly if there is an early pregnancy, that is the end of their education. We know how difficult it can be to keep teenagers in education in this country if they become pregnant, but in developing countries it is impossible.

We cannot order behavioural changes but we can say to countries that we would like them to promote the enforcement of the legal age of marriage. In many countries it is 16, but one frequently sees girls of 11, 12 or 13 married off as a second or third wife to some much older man. That can be the end of any possibility of education; if she falls pregnant, that is definitely the case. In such early teenage pregnancies, the risk of the mother or her infant dying is twice as high as with an adult woman. I would like to see, therefore, mention of that inserted in the text.

We cannot impose policies on people, but we can certainly encourage them. We can also discourage the sugar daddy situation which was brought to my attention regarding both Uganda and Zambia. Girls become involved in sex with older men who pay for their school fees, uniforms and so on. That situation is deplorable, and we must recognise it and try to end it.

In the White Paper, the Minister of State has stated that budget supports are essential. As I said, we must encourage countries to monitor themselves as well as endeavour to do that remotely. The Minister of State is right to say that it is important that Members go abroad to examine projects. We did not come down in the last shower of rain, and we can assess progress. It is important that we encourage countries to involve civil society and promote their own non-governmental organisations.

The third UN millennium goal is the reduction of child mortality by two thirds. We mentioned malnutrition and the serious effect it can have on a child. However, malnutrition of the mother is equally serious. The World Health Organisation recommends that a child be breast fed until the age of two. While breast feeding reduces a woman's fertility, it does not prevent her becoming pregnant, and she may wish to space her children so that the infant can be breast fed until the age of two as recommended.

It is important she has access to family planning facilities. Abstention, if she wishes, is a possible option for not becoming pregnant but there should be available supplies of family planning methods if she wants to space her family.

We know 500,000 women die in childbirth every year in the world. A woman in Africa has a one in 16 chance of dying for reasons associated with pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a woman in the developed world who has a one in 4,000 chance of dying of similar causes. We must continue to support those maternal health areas in which we have been involved because they have been worthwhile. When one sees how these clinics operate in rural parts of Africa one recognises their importance.

A third of illness among women in the developing world is due to problems with sexual and reproductive health. Women frequently do not have much choice about sex in that part of the world and it is important this is recognised. I wish the Minister of State had said more about the prevention of AIDS/HIV in his paper. Every minute some 650 people become infected with HIV through sex. Prevention has to be promoted in the developing world. People have to be given information on why women become pregnant and men who know they are HIV positive should be warned of the even more serious consequences for women who are raped by men with the virus. Lesotho has a terrible record of AIDS/HIV transmission. Uganda, however, has made enormous progress in this area by promoting prevention. It is not just talking about abstention but also about promoting the use of condoms. We must ensure condoms are available as needed. I have heard the argument that female condoms should be made available to women in areas of conflict because rape may be a crime of war. That is not of much use to a woman who is HIV positive.

We are also tackling other communicable diseases, for example, malaria. It is interesting that the World Health Organisation has recommended the use of DDT in houses, which it has not recommended for some time. We are trying to prevent leprosy and the vaccination of children is incredibly important.

The fact the Minister of State has discussed environmental sustainability is also welcome. Perhaps we could become more involved in microeconomics in yet another area, as we have frequently with great imagination in developing countries. For example, the Minister of State will be aware that in these countries women frequently carry loads of sticks on their backs, having being out most of the morning breaking down small trees and gathering them to bring home to light fires. This is bad for the environment because breaking down all the small trees leads to deforestation and soil erosion. It is also a terrible waste of the woman's time when she could be doing something more productive. Such women spend a lot of time in a smoky atmosphere. I suggest we encourage the private sector to promote the use of solar ovens in those areas.

Finally, let us not be too hard on the recipient countries. Accountability is essential, but we must realise they cannot write reports all the time. Reports are much easier for us to write — perhaps we write too many. Accountability is important so that the stakeholders know where the money is being spent. In developing countries people frequently have to make difficult choices as to whether to invest in roads or school books. I am sure such decisions are much more difficult for them than for us and we should try to be as considerate as possible when these issues arise.

I again congratulate the Minister of State on the splendid work he is doing.

I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on the high profile he has given Irish Aid in recent times. What is significant about today's debate is the fact that there is a White Paper. As the chief executive of Concern said, and I agree, it has set an example for other European states.

The White Paper has the support and endorsement of all Ministers. This shows it is firm Government policy and not just an isolated initiative within An Agreed Programme for Government. That is important because an issue such as world hunger cannot be put into a box and isolated from other activities, possibilities and opportunities. We certainly have come a long way from the days when there was a little "black baby" box on the teacher's desk at school, into which the children put their coins and the little black baby figure on the box nodded its head appreciatively. Even then, as a young person, it gave one a spiritual lift because one felt one was interacting in some way with humanity, even though one did not fully understand how. Nonetheless, one sensed there was some small appreciation for what one was doing. I am sure back in those days the same difficulties existed throughout the world.

Tens of millions of people are hungry today. This problem was not highlighted to the same extent in the past when we did not have television or other media outlets to horrify us. Anyone with a heart not made of stone who watches some of the television pictures that depict this poverty must wish to God he or she had the answers. One tries to understand why this is happening and the White Paper has helped in this regard. Why is there a scarcity of food in the world? That has to be examined.

It is vital for us to realise that it is not always the climate that causes the problems. In many of these countries the problems are often caused by a thirst for power among dictators and the conflicts which arise therefrom. Perhaps this is the time to sound a note of warning that all world powers should be careful about their foreign policies to ensure they do not create further conflicts which are often perceived to be for the selfish needs of the powers involved. We must ensure this is not the case. I hope some of the cynicism which surfaces is not firmly rooted or grounded. Part of that cynicism is expressed when people comment on how amazing it is that world powers can go into areas where they have vested interests, while ignoring other problem areas. For example, one of the greatest problems of all time is the AIDS epidemic. Medicines exist which could help those affected. The difficulty is that the patents on those medicines are held by people who could release them if they wanted to. The medicines could be produced at an exceptionally low cost but those who control the patents allow tens of thousands of people, including children, to die simply because they do not regard intervention for such purposes in the same light as military intervention.

I am not very familiar with the foreign policies of various countries, except from what I read. However, the foreign policy that always seems to have no vested interest and is rooted in humanity is that of Ireland. That has been the case right back through the years. The present Irish Aid programme, I understand, extends back over 32 years, to a time when the country was not as affluent as it is today. There has always been an urge to do something and this comes from our past experience. It is in our genes to want to help because Ireland suffered famine of genocidal proportions in the past.

The Minister of State was correct to highlight that Ireland can offer something exclusive, namely, its experience in the area of conflict analysis and resolution. That experience can be transposed to and used in other arenas. Ireland does not seem to have enemies in the sense that it never colonised or tried to exploit other countries. This is evidenced by the welcome for the White Paper. It has been welcomed by the aid agencies, the missionary groups, etc. I have never seen such unanimity. I would go so far as to say the media was exceptionally generous in its coverage of the launch of the White Paper. I compliment, in particular, The Irish Times on the extensive coverage it gave in this regard.

In my view, this underlines the existence of the elements for partnership to which the White Paper refers. It is a matter of doing what the Minister of State indicated earlier and it is evident that Members agree this is not a party political issue. There is no need for people to be politically partizan in respect of this matter. This issue does not merely concern our role in globalisation, it relates to our role in a much more fundamental matter, namely, humanity. All of this is inherent in the White Paper.

Another strength of the White Paper is the extensive consultation that took place in respect of it. Who are those operating at the coalface in this area? It is the NGOs, the volunteers and the missionary groups. It is evident there was widespread and intensive contact with these groups, which was important. In the past and in connection with documents of this nature, people often wondered on which shelf they would be put. The White Paper will not be put on a shelf because it is now in the ownership of so many different groups and people that progress in respect of it will be monitored.

We do not know what the future holds but no one is saying we cannot exceed the target of €1.5 billion for 2012. The Irish people will support the Government in respect of whatever level of aid, no matter how generous, it decides to provide because within 24 or 48 hours of recent emergency situations arising they responded to help alleviate the suffering of others. While there must be a rapid response to emergency situations, our final aim must be to make poverty history throughout the world.

This issue is of such considerable importance to so many people that the Labour Party will forgive the Minister of State for trying to steal its thunder by publishing the White Paper during its two-day conference in Cork.

That was unintentional.

We will, however, have greater difficulty forgiving the junior partners in Government for holding their conference on one of the days to which I refer and thereby distracting attention from our deliberations. We will not fall out on this issue.

I wish to begin by apologising to the Minister of State. On his initial appointment and for the fun of it, I made a few less than flattering comments as much to annoy his aunt as anything else. However, the energy he has brought to his job is a credit to him. I will continue to disagree with him about many matters but the energy and enthusiasm is refreshing, welcome and has illustrated a general sense of activism.

There are many comments I wish to make in respect of the White Paper. However, I wish my comments to take the form of constructive suggestions regarding things we could do better. May we take it as read that there is nothing in the White Paper with which anybody in Ireland disagrees. I will avoid referring to delays, broken promises, etc., and will merely state that such promises were made and were broken.

I hope we have reached a consensus that the target of 0.7% for overseas development aid should be reached by 2012. We are a generous people but there are countries situated not too far away that are moving beyond that target. I will happily qualify that and state that, in respect of other areas, some of these countries are not in a position to point the finger at Ireland because much of their aid is vigorously tied. It is easier to set a target of 1% if a country is determined to inform the recipients of aid that the additional 0.3% will be comprised of what that country wants them to purchase from it. That is a pretend form of aid.

Ireland's fundamental decision that its aid would not be either explicitly or implicitly tied was one of a considerable number of such decisions that displayed foresight and generosity. The decision to which I refer has given rise to Ireland's overseas development aid being of a very high quality. This might have been a factor in the delay in not reaching 0.7%. I am not persuaded in that regard but I accept that it might have been a factor. It would have been bad to lose the sense of the importance of quality. The White Paper refers a great deal to the need for quality.

I am somewhat disappointed because the impact of the arms trade on development is not dealt with in the White Paper. The two are inseparable. I attended a conference in Nairobi before last year's summer recess, the subject of which was the availability of small arms in the Great Lakes region. What I heard and saw there was terrifying. When I refer to small arms, I am not merely talking about pistols. The weapons referred to went from pistols up to and including light missile launchers that could be slung over one's shoulder. Literally hundreds of thousands of such weapons are available in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

The scandalous aspect of this matter is that approximately 60% of the arms to which I refer originated in some part of Europe. That is disturbing. The European Union must take action in respect of this matter. Many governments have a reasonably good record on the issue of armaments. However, The Irish Times yesterday — lost among other matters — contained a report from Oxfam, Amnesty, etc., that the world is spending more on arms now than was spent at the height of the Cold War. It was stated in the report that $1.058 billion is spent each year on armaments, 80% of which are produced by six countries, five of which are the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain. This represents the most phenomenal waste of money.

We cannot change the entire world but we have a duty to examine our values in this area. There has been considerable discussion regarding reviewing the licensing system for dual use materials. However, the debate has never been progressed. I invite the Minister of State to release some of his energy in the direction of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and ask it to get the finger out and take action. I will not criticise a Government that takes decisions, even if it means that jobs will be lost in some areas.

Trading in arms is an immoral way to prosper. The report from Amnesty, Oxfam, etc., refers to the ways in which it is possible to avoid the restrictions that are in place. This links to development because one of the mistakes many developing countries make is that they seem to believe that regardless of their level of impoverishment, they must have armies of First World quality. Whether per capita, as a percentage of GNP or whatever, we spend less on defence than many countries that are not in a position to provide a decent living for their people. In that context, it must be remembered that we were obliged to live with terrorism and all sorts of civil insecurity.

I am not necessarily stating that the arms trade should have been dealt with in the White Paper. However, the latter remains incomplete in the absence of our facing up to what I believe to be one of the most immoral trades. It is even more threatening to ordinary people than the drugs trade. It is of enormous significance; 30 times more money is spent on arms than on overseas development aid.

The apparent unwillingness to confront our impact on developing countries is also linked to this. The metal coltan is used in the manufacture of mobile phones and the smuggling of it is at the core of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC has large and valuable coltan resources and the trade involves neighbouring countries and others. If we do not have a rigid, enforceable control of arms, weapons will be sucked into areas where people consider it worth fighting to get their hands on extremely valuable resources. Coltan is one such resource about which we do not hear much.

I also wish to address the issue of human rights. I am not saying the Opposition is vastly better than the Government on this issue, I do not think it is that sort of a debate. However, I am concerned about wobbly views on human rights. Courtesy of the Minster of State, I was in Ethiopia earlier in the year. It was a valuable and useful trip. It is a sign of Ireland's standing in Ethiopia that the delegation spent almost two hours having a full and frank discussion with the prime minister on internal Ethiopian affairs. We could have been told that they were internal affairs and therefore none of our business. Neither the prime minister nor the Irish delegation took offence at the nature of the meeting's content and I am sure it served some purpose. I am sure the Minister of State's diligent officials have given him a comprehensive report on the meeting and he probably knows more about it than I now remember.

I contrast the funny happenings in Ethiopia and our willingness to understand its problems — I fully accept the need for the Government to take a measured approach — with the boycott of the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Territories. It is difficult for me to explain to people in Palestine why we understand the pressures the government of Ethiopia is under, and yet we demand from the elected government of the Palestinian Territories a succession of rigid, inflexible preconditions that we demand from nobody else. It undermines the moral basis of our whole commitment to development.

While I am not sure of the latest phase, as they sometimes can get lost, there was a willingness to write off debt in the case of Iraq that has not been visible in many other countries, such as Mozambique, that are struggling to build functioning democracies. There is a rigidity, slowness and conditionality about writing off debt that was not the case for Iraq. We need to have a position that does not devalue itself by saying we believe in one thing but then support actions which mean something else.

My Labour Party colleague, Proinsias De Rossa MEP, issued a report regarding child labour labelling on the produce of developing countries and it has been adopted by the European Parliament. When I buy an item of clothing, it is dreadful that I cannot know where it was made. It could well have been made in Burma or other countries where child labour is unregulated and unrestricted. It is easy to say that this is outside the reach of the Department of Foreign Affairs. However, this is an agreed White Paper and it should be agreed that the Irish public, which is so committed to the issue of development, should be in a position to exercise consumer choice via a proper labelling system where they know what they are buying is produced under acceptable conditions.

While the White Paper deals at length with fair trade and free trade this mostly relates to food products, etc. We must ensure the concept of fair trade extends into textiles and clothing to exclude the possibility of us saving a little expenditure on the back of exploited child labour. In principle, my party welcomes the White Paper and look forward to its consistent and enthusiastic implementation.

I join with other speakers in complimenting and congratulating the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, for the initiative he has taken and the work he has put into preparing this document, the culmination of which was the recent launch of the White Paper by the Taoiseach and other Ministers. It is clear that the Minister of State has spent considerable time and effort in drafting this document. Not only have objectives been set down, they have been underpinned with financial commitments which are clearly set out in the paper. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid, I appreciate the huge amount of work the Minister of State and his officials have put into this. It will make a major contribution to dealing with the issues at national and international levels.

It is fair to say that for many years the overseas aid budget was an appendix to the Department of Foreign Affairs Estimate and therefore never got the attention it deserved during the preparation of Estimates. It was the poor relation of the Department of Foreign Affairs budget. Thankfully this has changed. I am glad that the Department of Foreign Affairs will manage this budget under the terms set out in the White Paper. There were suggestions that this might be hived off or broken up and that would have been a major mistake.

It is also significant that the Minister of State went to great lengths to involve non-governmental organisations in the preparation of this paper. More than 100 organisations made contributions to it. The Minister of State visited various cities and towns so that the public would have an input and the paper is better for that — it will be more authentic and will better stand the test of time. It is also important to acknowledge the contribution made by non-governmental agencies working with governmental agencies, the United Nations and other organisations in putting together initiatives to deal with this huge international crisis. The frightening figures outlined by the Taoiseach when launching the document, particularly the number of people, especially children, dying of malnutrition and AIDS, is an indication of the urgency and necessity to proceed along the lines set out in the White Paper and reach the targets contained therein. We appreciate the work of the NGOs, missionaries and others in contributing to this.

I also acknowledge the work of the Defence Forces in this area. I had particular opportunity to visit Irish personnel when they were in Lebanon and a major part of their peacekeeping effort was humanitarian. During my visits, the local community acknowledged the humanitarian work the Defence Forces were carrying out. While we have not had much time to study this paper in detail as it has only recently been launched, I am glad to see that Ireland will in future play an important role at United Nations level in helping streamline the various organisations that deal with aid issues. Given the financial commitment we are making, we will now have a stronger voice. This will also apply in the European Union, where we will be able to play a more vibrant role in proposing initiatives and ideas. It is welcome that in this document the Minister not only deals with the issues from the viewpoint of the Irish people but also sets out the contribution Ireland can make in the United Nations, the Council of Ministers and the Commission to charting the future course of international policies in this area. The previous speaker referred to the necessity to examine arms issues and other areas.

The trade negotiations are paramount. I had the opportunity, as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, to visit Tanzania and see the work being done in Kilosa. In his opening remarks the Minister of State referred to the necessity for people to be more aware of this issue by visiting the locations to see the work being done on the ground by the various State organisations and agencies, and international agencies, and the co-ordination of all those involved. The impact a small contribution can make on the lives and livelihoods of people in places like Kilosa in Tanzania is dramatic. It was an eye opener for me to see at first hand the devastation inflicted on those communities through lack of opportunity, poverty, disease and malnutrition, but to see also the relief that even a box of Aspro can provide to people in some of those isolated areas which get very little attention from the international community.

On the area of the trade negotiations, a point made to me by the Tanzanian authorities was that much of the overseas direct aid being provided could be significantly reduced if there was an initiative forthcoming in matters of trade. When I was in Tanzania the people were concerned about opportunities for marketing bananas and had they been in a position to market some of their own commodities, it would have taken away much of the unnecessary attention that was being given by international communities.