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.