Vote 29 — International Co-operation (Revised).

This meeting is convened to consider the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2006, Vote 28 — Foreign Affairs — and Vote 29 — International Co-operation. On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and senior officials from the Department. The meeting is scheduled to conclude at 6.45 p.m. It is, however, anticipated that it will conclude before that time. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will deal initially with Vote 28 and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, will deal with Vote 29. Is that agreed? Agreed.

A proposed timetable has been circulated for today's meeting. It allows for opening statements by the Minister and the Opposition spokespersons, followed by an open discussion on the individual subheads by way of a question and answer session. Is that agreed? Agreed. The Department of Foreign Affairs has circulated briefing materials on the Revised Estimates to Members. The brief provides details of the individual subheads. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to make an opening statement.

I thank the Chairman and members. Before I address Vote 28, I wish to make a few comments on Vote 29 with which the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, will deal in more detail. Members will see that in 2006 there is record expenditure on overseas development aid. In September of last year, the Government announced we would reach the UN target of spending on ODA of 0.7% of GNP by 2012. We are well on the way to meeting this target. My Department's €600 million allocation, together with contributions from other Departments, means the total Government spending on aid will reach €734 million in 2006, which is 0.5% of GNP and will be reached one year earlier than predicted in September of last year. This represents an overall increase of €129 million, or 24%, year on year from 2005 to 2006. Indeed, the increase in the aid programme for next year is greater than the value of the entire programme in 1995, that is, €123 million.

The overall allocation for Vote 28 amounts to €243 million, of which €39 million is expected to come from appropriations-in-aid, largely in the form of passport and visa fees. This compares to the 2005 allocation of €228 million. Some 80% of the 2006 allocation of €195 million relates to the Department's administration budget. This funds the ongoing operational costs of the Department at headquarters and its 74 missions abroad where our officials and staff, some 1,400 across the world, are engaged in promoting the country's interests and in protecting the well-being and safety of Irish citizens.

This year's administration budget also includes a capital allocation of €30 million. This will enable the targeted purchase of mission properties abroad where it makes good business sense and also provides for the introduction of a biometric feature into our passports later this year. The purchase of embassy offices and residences abroad, as distinct from renting, has been raised and encouraged at many meetings here in recent years. The balance of the 2006 Estimate, €48 million, funds the range of programmes operated by the Department — for instance, our emigrant support programme, €12 million, the reconciliation fund relating to Northern Ireland, €2.7 million, and our programme of contributions to the various international organisations of which Ireland is a member, €26 million.

I will now focus on a number of areas where new or additional resources have been secured in the 2006 Estimates. While proud of our development aid programme, I am also conscious that the poor and the vulnerable can also be found within the communities of Irish citizens that live abroad. The report of the Task Force on Emigrants in 2002 provided an agenda for action which my Department is proactively taking forward. I am pleased that funding for emigrant services has increased again in 2006. The Government's commitment to this priority area is clearly demonstrated by the 45% increase in funding from 2005 to the unprecedented amount of €12 million.

This substantially increased allocation reflects the strength of the Government's continuing commitment to our emigrant communities, particularly in Britain. The Irish abroad unit within my Department is working in close partnership with emigrant support organisations, both at home and abroad, to protect and advance the interests of vulnerable Irish communities overseas.

Our partners in the voluntary sector have warmly welcomed the very significant increase in funding over recent years. The bulk of funding will go to organisations helping those in the emigrant community in Britain who are in the greatest need of support. Our funding to the Irish immigration centres across the US is also growing and is supporting the delivery of an enhanced range of services to our citizens. These include the undocumented, many of whom are living in stressful circumstances.

I know and appreciate that all Members on this committee share our concern about the plight of undocumented Irish citizens in the US. This was manifested in the support given by all sides to the Dáil motion on the legislation in the US Congress sponsored by Senators McCain and Kennedy. I greatly appreciate and compliment the lobbying work which the committee has undertaken on its recent visits to the US. I have raised this issue with senior legislators on a number of visits to Washington.

As members are aware, before Easter the US Senate came very close to passing a comprehensive and positive Bill. This week Senators have resumed their consideration of this matter and their discussions are expected to continue until they break for recess on 26 May. In view of this, I attach a particular priority to emphasising again the support of the Government for measures that would enable the undocumented Irish to regularise their status and have open to them a path to permanent residency. I have asked the embassy and the consulates in America to treat this matter as a high priority.

This year's Estimates also provided a €3.4 million increase in Ireland's funding contributions to international organisations, bringing the total allocation to €26.36 million. Most of this results from increased mandatory contributions to the United Nations, including an increase in Ireland's share of the UN peacekeeping budget. Our continuing support for the UN reflects its importance as the primary mechanism for ensuring international security.

We play a full and constructive role in the reform agenda being led by the UN Secretary General, in which I was honoured to play an envoy role in 2005. Since last September's UN summit, encouraging progress has been made in the decisions taken by the General Assembly to establish the peacebuilding commission and the human rights council, while management and budget reform issues remain a work in progress.

Provision has also been made in the Estimates for a significant increase in the grant-aid to the European movement in Ireland — €250,000 — to allow it to expand its work of disseminating information and stimulating debate on EU matters. Last week the Oireachtas celebrated Europe Day in a unique way by making European Union affairs the focus of an entire day of its business. A series of debates were arranged on migration, agriculture, scrutiny of EU legislation and on Europe and the developing world, to which several Ministers and the EU Commissioner, Dr. Fischer Boel, contributed.

I am glad this important initiative on the part of the Oireachtas, which was put together to bring the European Union closer to Irish citizens, had the support of all parties and was judged a success. There is a constant need for improved communication on EU issues, whether it is through the National Forum on Europe, the Oireachtas or other fora for debate and discussion.

This year's Estimates also include an allocation of €1.5 million for training initiatives focused on the administrations of the new and acceding member states. In this regard, I am very pleased that the Second Stage of the legislation to provide for the ratification of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania commenced on Europe Day and I am glad comments by Deputies from all parties on the Bill were positive. Enlargement and the issue of free movement of labour are some of the challenges facing the European Union and it is important there is an opportunity to fully debate these in the Oireachtas.

A substantial increase has also been provided for the promotion of cultural activities providing our missions abroad with an improved capacity to further enhance awareness and appreciation of Ireland and Irish culture. A major focus of our cultural outreach this year is a travelling exhibition to mark the centenary of the birth of Samuel Beckett.

This year's Estimates also include a new programme subhead, with a €200,000 allocation, to meet my Department's obligations under phase two of the Asia strategy. These relate to incoming trade delegations and media visits from the priority Asian countries and the expansion of the internship programme currently focused on Shanghai.

My bilateral visits to Japan and China last week where I met with Foreign Ministers Aso and Li have reinforced my belief in the importance of broadening and deepening our relationship with these key countries and markets. Both Japan and China, priority markets in the first phase of the strategy, saw very substantial increases in exports from Ireland in recent years. I believe exports to China have increased by approximately 34% since 2005. Both Japan and China now number among Ireland's top ten trading partners.

The Asia strategy is now in its second phase, 2004-09. It targets not only established markets but also emerging markets in the region. With the Government's commitment to greater interaction with Asia, including the opening in late 2005 of an embassy in Vietnam, I have no doubt the linkages which have already been established will be further developed and enhanced in the years ahead.

In regard to Northern Ireland, the Estimates provide an allocation of €2.7 million to resource the operation of my Department's reconciliation fund. This fund supports cross-community engagement within Northern Ireland and enhanced contact and dialogue between both parts of the island and between Ireland and Britain. It has proven to be very effective in making interventions in areas where the larger funding agencies might not have been active and in generating goodwill in communities that hitherto might not have been well disposed to the Irish Government.

The appalling murder of young MichaelMcIlveen in Ballymena is a very sad illustration of how far we still are from the full achievement of tolerance and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. This is an area that will require sustained attention over many years before the old mindset of hatred and division is fully banished.

However, yesterday was a good day for Northern Ireland. As the committee is aware, members of the Assembly convened at Stormont for the first time in over three and a half years. This was an important step towards realising the Government's objective of restoring the devolved institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

In Armagh on 6 April, the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, set out the Government's joint strategy for achieving a fully functioning Assembly and Executive in 2006. This strategy is founded on a shared conviction that devolved partnership government, as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, provides the best opportunity to create a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.

The Assembly has been mandated to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and form an Executive within six weeks. Should that not prove possible, the parties will be allowed some additional but limited time — until 24 November — for the express purpose of implementing the Good Friday Agreement and establishing the Executive.

The recall of the Assembly yesterday brings with it a precious opportunity for Northern Ireland's politicians and for the people they represent. It brings an opportunity to foster real political progress and to chart the way for important decisions affecting the lives of every section of the community to be taken by locally elected politicians. This is right, not only in terms of effective government, but in creating a truly common future for all.

We now want to see all the parties in the Assembly engage in positive politics. If all sides are truly committed to working together in partnership government, and if the progress we have seen on PlRA criminality and paramilitary activity is sustained, then there is no reason, by 25 November this year, or even before that date, Northern Ireland should not have a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and a power-sharing administration.

I stress that the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, remains the template for co-operation between the two Governments. Our clear aim is the formation of an Executive within the period indicated. However, in all circumstances, the Governments are agreed that we will exercise our responsibilities to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented to the maximum possible extent for the benefit of all communities.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is very committed to service delivery to our citizens. Every citizen is a potential customer of the Department and each of them is entitled to a quality service. In 2005, the Department issued 680,000 passports. This represents an increase of 48% over the 458,000 issued in 2000. Achieving this increase, without compromising the processing time for each applicant, would not have been possible without automating the process. The automated passport service project delivered on its business objectives which were to allow the Department meet an ever-increasing demand for passport services and produce a passport booklet which is regarded as world class in security terms.

Building on the platform of the APS, the Department is now, in accordance with international best practice, introducing biometric features into Irish passports. This will further enhance the security and integrity of our passport. The feature being included will be the facial image of the applicant taken from the passport photograph and will not involve any additional cost or inconvenience for the applicant.

A further impetus to the introduction of biometrics was the decision by the US to make it a requirement for continued participation in the visa waiver programme, from which Irish visitors to the United States have greatly benefited. Our citizens would not have welcomed a reversion to the status quo ante where US visas were required for visiting the United States. The procurement process for the biometrics project was successfully completed in March, the development phase is well under way and we are on course to meet the target for the introduction of biometrics in late October of this year. Based on the procurement exercise, the project has been costed at €8.8 million and I am confident it will be delivered on time and on budget.

Another important dimension of the Department's service is the consular assistance provided to citizens who find themselves in difficulties or distress. Given the ease with which Irish people now travel all over the globe, all of our missions abroad — from Argentina to Zambia — are regularly responding to citizens in need. ln most cases, the situation involved is relatively manageable — no more than a loss of passport but in some cases, however, it may be a tragic situation such as a loss of life. ln all cases our officials seek to respond quickly and compassionately to the needs of the citizen in difficulty, including when these emergencies arise outside of business hours.

The 2006 Estimates for Vote 28 have resourced my Department to advance its work across a number of priority areas. I am happy to respond to any points raised by members.

I welcome the Minister, the Minister of State and the departmental officials. I acknowledge the co-operation I have received from the Department on the occasions I have dealings with it as an Opposition spokesperson. It is an open and helpful Department. I have ten minutes in which to cover the world so I will begin.

I share the Minister's sentiments about our emigrants in the United States. He will be aware of the appreciation of the Irish-American organisations for the work being done by the Government and all parties. I hope the Democrats and Republicans will put their political differences aside in an election year and will come to a just decision on immigrants, taking into consideration their own security priorities. However, the Americans must realise they are dependent economically and in every way on immigrant labour. The Irish immigrants and others built the American economy and this should be taken into consideration. I visited the United States with the Chairman and other members of the committee and I am hopeful the Americans will do the right thing by the end of May before it is too late to reach an agreement on this issue.

The Minister referred to Irish embassies from Argentina to Zambia. The list of embassies shows that South America seems to be a diplomatic backwater. The only Irish embassies are in Brazil and Argentina and the rest is a great void. Will the Minister explain the reason we are neglecting that part of the world which is re-emerging as an important and pivotal influence? Why is Ireland so diplomatically thin on the ground? Why has Ireland not followed through on its agreement with Chile? That country has an embassy in Ireland for the past four years and we seem to have ignored the commitment to reciprocate with an embassy in Chile. It is important that Ireland spreads itself diplomatically in that part of the world. We seem to be absent in Central America.

Despite the best efforts, the format for Europe Day last week was not the best in order to have a real exchange of views and opinions on a number of issues. I refer to the decision by the European Union to terminate humanitarian aid to Palestine and the subsequent decision by the United Nations last week to row back somewhat on that decision. What role did the Minister and Ireland play in the decision to cut off aid to Palestine? This was one of the most savage, narrow-minded and cruel decisions made by the European Union in many years. Despite the record of Hamas which cannot be ignored, the lessons of history should have been learned. In post-revolutionary society in Ireland, Nicaragua and other countries, it took some time for the separation of state, government and army to occur.

As a result of the will of the Palestinian people, expressed in a free and democratic election, we expected almost an overnight change in attitude by Hamas. Despite soundings from its leadership that there would be a more level and reasonable attitude to Israel, notwithstanding all its shortcomings, the decision to cut aid was reprehensible. That, coupled with the decision by Israel to withhold payment of taxes due to the Palestinian Authority, was disgraceful. I would like the Minister to flesh out his views on this matter. I could not get an answer to a question I tabled on it last week. I was informed that there was a consensus of opinion at the Council of Ministers. When this matter was discussed at the Council, surely an opinion was given, and I would like to know the nature thereof.

On the ongoing difficulties with Iran and the nuclear crisis, has Ireland considered taking a more proactive role in negotiating with Iran? I am unhappy about the role played by Germany, France and Britain — as the EU three — which negotiated with Iran on behalf of the Union. In light of their chequered pasts in respect of the nuclear industry and also their broader historical backgrounds, they did not represent the best interests of the European Union in their negotiations with Iran. As a nation, Ireland seems to have undersold itself and its reputation on supporting the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We should have asserted our reputation and role in promoting that treaty in a more diplomatic way and insisted on some involvement in negotiations with Iran. There are horrific double standards and hypocrisy in regard to the non-proliferation treaty. I do not have the time to go into the double standards and hypocrisy in regard to India, China and some of the countries that are seeking representation on the Security Council and that are not signatories to the treaty. While I am not an apologist for Iran, a more level-headed and reasonable approach should have been taken in the negotiations with it. Ireland, as part of the European Union, could play a role in such an approach.

I only have time to refer briefly to decentralisation and perhaps we can return to this point later. I am concerned at the manner in which the decentralisation of Irish Aid is progressing. There is great danger that the intellectual memory of Irish Aid will be lost in the process. While I support the principle of decentralisation, it should be done in a consultative way. It should be done in a way to protect the intellectual memory of the organisation, particularly at a time of increased Third World development aid and bearing in mind the need to ensure that such aid is spent in an effective way. I would like to obtain details, if possible, of the expenditure to date on premises in Limerick for Irish Aid and the nature of legal agreements entered into, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, referred in the Dáil last week.

I also wish to raise the issue of human trafficking. I watched the "Prime Time" programme on the Monday before last and I was struck by the fact that Romanian girls aged 15 to 18 can get through the systems we have in place, enter the country and become involved in prostitution rackets here. How porous is our system? Is our passport control system so porous that young people can get through it and fall into the type of activity depicted in that programme? What discussions are taking place among the Minister, the Minister of State and their counterparts in Europe, including those of the aspiring accession countries, which may enter the Union in January or perhaps later in 2007? What discussions have taken place with the Romanian authorities on stemming the flow of human trafficking into this country? There were a few other points I wish to raise and perhaps I will get an opportunity to do so later.

The Deputy will have an opportunity to do so later. I call Deputy Michael Higgins. Following his contribution, I will take questions.

I thank the Chairman for that guidance. I apologise for being late but this was due to circumstances beyond my control.

I wish to echo one of the points made by Deputy Allen. Following the visit of the former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, to Ireland, I understood that we had undertaken to reciprocate with the establishment of an embassy in Chile. That is certainly the view of the Chilean authorities. It also seems a great pity that we have not opened an embassy in Chile, given the long history of democracy that prevails there. After the seizing of power by General Pinochet, it was a common view that democracy was young in Chile. However, the latter is one of the most sophisticated countries in terms of parliamentary democracy. It is a great pity that we have not seized the opportunity and fulfilled our undertaking to open an embassy in Chile.

This raises another issue, namely, the view of the Minister and the Department on the unfolding events in Latin America in general, on which there has been what one might regard as a strange silence among some of the European Union members. Certainly everything has changed in economic, social, cultural and political relationships between countries. That is affected by the changed energy situation globally. The days of military rule are over in Latin America. There is quite an established record of parliamentary democracy there. It is difficult to discern the European Union's attitude to developments on that continent.

I wish to express concern at the difficulty experienced by those of us who are Opposition spokespersons in seeking to discern exactly the position Ireland takes at the General Council in the European Union. The Minister informed me that Ireland has taken a position and I obviously accept that. From statements issued at the end of Council meetings, however, it is not easy to discern the position that has been taken.

I will give an illustration of this point, which has already been made in respect of Iran and the non-proliferation treaty. To an outside observer, without taking up the position of one or other side of the current argument, it appears that Iran is within the ambit of the treaty. It also appears that there is nothing in the treaty that prohibits the development of nuclear capacity for energy purposes. However, in the relationships that have been prosecuted on behalf of the European Union by designated countries, initially justified on the basis that these were countries with competence, we have been left in a fairly confusing position. One might say that it is not confusing, but that is not the case. In the case of the United States' agreement with India, for example, that latter is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. I do not have the advantage of having my notes with me but I make the point that Ireland is a member of the London club. How is the Indian agreement to be implemented and what position will Ireland take when it is called upon to facilitate an exception or a derogation to enable that treaty between the United States and India to be implemented? That is important because it would appear that if we are silent on one issue and take no position on the other, inconsistencies will appear.

I agree entirely with Deputy Allen in regard to aid to Palestine. There was never any indication that NGOs — or other agencies, as they are frequently referred to — would be able to take on the burden of paying 156,000 public servants and the Palestinian Authority or be able to meet the demands for the necessary social and health security of the population. I remain of the view that Ireland's role on Palestine and the Middle East should be to try to suggest a forum at which the different parties can meet.

Having visited Palestine twice last year, the one aspect that strikes one is that there is an enormous number of humanitarian agencies and workers in and around Ramallah, the largest dead city in the world, but that there are very few political people speaking about the illegal occupation of the West Bank. Neither are people referring to the extension beyond the Maaleh Adumim area of Jerusalem, a city which, since 1967, has expanded by more than one and a half times the size of Paris.

People ask if we will forever be required to look after victims in that part of the world, while being unable to speak about the illegality of the occupation and the settlements. I am not being anti-Semitic in making these comments. I unequivocally condemn attacks that have been made on civilian targets on all sides. It would appear that a neutral, independent approach should be taken by organising an international conference to try to bring the parties together rather than by saying that we are going to remove aid until Hamas has recognised the state of Israel. What if Hamas were to say that it would recognise Israel if the latter announced an end to the expansion of settlements or that it would engage in basic compliance with some of the United Nations resolutions? Like Deputy Allen, I wish to thank the Minister and his officials for the courtesy that has been extended to me, as an Opposition spokesperson, since last year.

I appreciate the increase in the allocation for the Irish in Britain. However, it remains far short of the amount the commission recommended in respect of these people. A specific problem arises on which the Government may be obliged to take a policy decision. Buildings in a number of centres, in London and elsewhere, need replacement or refurbishment. In one case, a property is being vacated in favour of acquiring an entirely new building. The new centres for immigrants will deal not only with Irish people but also with those of other nationalities or ethnic backgrounds. A special sum is necessary to take account of the capital requirements of the different bodies in Britain that are catering for our emigrants.

In regard to what has already been said, when we visited Washington, Senator Kennedy in particular made significant gains in his handling of the committee debate in regard to the undocumented Irish in the US. The most recent statement by the President of the US strikes me as somewhat of a middle ground position. Although many people will be concerned about the re-echoing of many of the harsh statements regarding border security in the legislation, all we can do is continue to assist in every way possible, as the Government and the Opposition are doing, those organisations that are working to assist the undocumented Irish in the United States.

We must find a mechanism for a clearer exposition of Irish policy through the General Council of the European Union. What was the Irish position before it was rinsed? We should focus on a new approach in respect of legislation relating to Latin America. I strongly urge an initiative in regard to Palestine.

As there is no representative of the Technical Group present, I thank the Minister and the spokespersons for their contributions. We will now have a question and answer session on Vote 28 until approximately 5.10 p.m.

There has been a huge increase in expenditure on office machinery and other office supplies under subhead A5. The Department must be gearing up for an increased workload around the world and for modernisation. Perhaps the Minister could elaborate on this. I welcome the support for Irish emigrant services and the work that has been done by the Department in which we had the privilege of sharing in the United States, in particular, but also in Britain. I thank the representatives of the Department who helped us in that regard.

In regard to the Asia strategy, the figure provided is approximately €200,000. It is important to recognise that the work done by our embassies and heads of mission is most effective in the various countries — to date, quite a few — we visited. I do not think that is adequately recognised, not necessarily by the Minister but in the Government's work generally. A great deal of opportunity exists and a certain amount of it has been realised. Even the Minister highlighted the opportunities that exist, in which people are interested, in Asia in particular.

We have also received many representations from South America in respect of Ireland taking a deeper interest in that continent. We must examine these issues in context and take the opportunity to step up a gear in that respect. We have excellent people operating in the different areas and they work at a much higher level than one would expect. They have a great reputation and there is an opportunity to build on our relationships.

I could not find reference to the attachés when perusing the list of our representatives abroad. Are they on a separate list? The people who are working in that regard are most effective. I made a note to the effect that the people who work in the area of foreign affairs are dynamic actors in these regions. People do not realise the extent of what these individuals do. They work hard to ensure that matters run smoothly for all our people in business, administration and education and help develop relationships.

I am delighted to see that the sites and buildings are being purchased. This is something for which I have pressed for years. I am glad that it is happening. I congratulate the Minister and the Department on that. Many of the sites are reasonably priced but in a few years that will not be the case because the countries in question will develop. There may be difficulties in many of these countries but they will develop. I will not say any more at this stage. We will discuss international co-operation after 5.10 p.m.

I am not sure of the protocol in regard to these meetings.

We will take questions at this stage.

I compliment the Minister on the range of programmes dealt with by his Department. I thank the officials with whom we interact for their unfailing courtesy and promptness in dealing with queries. I acknowledge the increased support of the Department for European Movement Ireland, an organisation of which I am vice-chairman, as this has given us a significant boost.

A sum of €2.7 million has been allocated to the reconciliation fund. As a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I am aware of the extensive network of contacts the Department has with groups across all sectors of the community in Northern Ireland. Will that sum accommodate the number of requests received? If the number of requests coming through our body is anything to go by, demand is increasing. I do not suggest every request from a group in Northern Ireland should necessarily be acceded to but many of the requests must be accommodated. They range from organisations dealing with the unemployed to youth organisations and groups marketing Ireland on an all-island basis.

I congratulate the Minister on the proposal to purchase rather than rent properties abroad because it makes economic sense. I also congratulate him on the increase in emigrant funding. I am not sure who renders services for vulnerable Irish people abroad but are basic education courses, such as computer literacy, included in the services? Do the GAA and other Irish sporting and cultural organisations interact to help young emigrants to integrate into society abroad or return home?

I welcome both Ministers and their officials. I refer to an administrative issue relating to the development aid programme under Vote 29, which the Minister mentioned earlier. What problems, if any, are being experienced regarding the move to Limerick? Rumours of discontent have been reported in the media. The committee is supportive of the aid programme and the increases therein and it is important that the Minister clearly outline the impact of decentralisation on the roll out of the programme as the budget expands, since the row about the budget has finally been put to bed and, happily, funding has been secured into the future, allowing the Minister to increase the budget in line with our international commitment to reach the UN target by 2012.

I asked that question earlier and I also tried to get a response on Europe Day last week but I was confused as ever when the Minister replied. I do not know what is happening.

This is not a political issue. Every member is concerned about it and the Minister should respond in a straightforward, non-partisan way. The efficacy of the programme is of interest to the committee.

I never said it was a political issue. I expressed concern about the loss of intellectual memory in the organisation. Officials should not be forced to move.

The allocation for consultancy services under subhead A7 has increased by 46%. Will the Minister give a breakdown of these services? The allocation to the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board has increased from a low base of €7,000 to €28,000. In what activities does the board engage? Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the 69% increase in contributions to bodies in Ireland for furtherance of international relations, which is also being increased from a low base? I also asked questions on a number of occasions in my opening contribution, to which I did not receive a response.

On the question of seeking advice on investment in Ireland, has the advice become more expensive or is more advice being provided? The small number of officials deployed in different missions abroad is striking. How many new staff were recruited within the Civil Service and externally by the Department last year and how many is it intended to recruit this year? No expenditure is listed for the mission in Vietnam. It might arise in the other Vote but I do not recall a succinct explanation as to why Vietnam was chosen rather than Cambodia, Laos and so on. When the mission is established, it has been suggested it will deal with the other countries in the region. What is the reasoning behind that choice?

What consultancy services were provided? I refer to the United Nations association. Given the Minister's close relationship with Kofi Annan and the UN, I would have thought the Government would seek to educate the public regarding the importance of the UN and its agencies but it is one of the few headings showing a projected decrease. I have long felt that institution could have done much better but it needs assistance and promotion. Why has the allocation been reduced from €48,000 to approximately €30,000?

I referred to the EU foreign policy on the Middle East earlier and the Minister may prefer to respond on another occasion. This policy is characterised by one great consistency, which is the difference between the missions in Tel Aviv and Ramallah and their versions of what is happening in the Middle East. I continually hear two voices, which are not reconcilable.

There are quite a number of questions, which I will try to address as best I can. The bulk of the increase under subhead A5 relates to the passport system. The subhead has increased by €15.5 million to meet the ongoing costs associated with the new passport system, including the development of the biometric features. Consultancy services are required to upgrade the Department's IT and communications system and biometric features. A new satellite system must be installed and the information technology involved must be upgraded.

I thank all the Members for their ongoing support regarding the purchase of premises abroad. Even before I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, Members on both sides of the House exhorted the Minister for Finance to provide funding for this. An allocation of €12.5 million will be made this year. We reviewed all our properties for residences and chanceries in December 2005. The total valuation of our properties abroad is about €113 million and the most valuable property is the combined chancery and residence at the Holy See, which is valued at €16 million. Given the relativity of the value of property abroad with the value in Ireland, it is important that we purchase as soon as possible. There are issues surrounding title and trying to get a suitable premises. We are looking to purchase in China, India, Strasbourg, Cairo and Slovenia. I was in China last week and the location of the current premises is very suitable, but we must look at the fabric of the existing building.

I thank Deputy Carey for his remarks on the reconciliation fund. Of all the funds in which I have been involved across different Departments, this fund is one of the most significant. It has given us a great opportunity to meet communities with whom Government representatives would normally not talk. We have made some great contacts and I am a strong supporter of the fund. Deputy Dempsey raised the issue of the Irish abroad and support organisations. Last Sunday, the Consul General in New York hosted a reception for the visiting Roscommon team that played New York. I was in Beijing and I met members of the Beijing Banshees, the local female GAA team. Our DION grants assist organisations in the UK.

The Minister of State will give more detail on decentralisation, but we are pleased with the way in which it is going. We will have the senior management in place by the autumn. We are happy with the uptake of more than 40%. Deputy Allen referred to risks, but we are getting the senior management in place early, which will ensure that any intellectual loss will be compensated by new, well-trained people who will have been in the system before decentralisation finally takes place. Much work has taken place to acquire a new building.

The Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board is a very useful organisation and I have attended a number of its meetings in the US. There is an increase in funding because the board has met more often and there has been an increase in the numbers hiring the hotel. Most of the people who attend pay their own travelling expenses, but the group is very important because it advises us on the economic situation in the US.

We took in 20 third secretaries in 2005 and three in 2006. More will be taken in.

From outside or elsewhere?

From outside. They were graduate recruits.

Vietnam was chosen as a result of a review by Irish Aid. It was the view of the Department that Vietnam was the most preferable location and this has worked out very well.

For economic reasons?

No. It was mainly due to Irish Aid. We are dealing with Cambodia and Laos out of that embassy. It was chosen to promote overseas development aid.

With regard to the UN association, we are willing to assist but we are looking for the UN to come forward with proposals. Given the very strong support for the UN in Ireland, I suggested we might look at some programmes for the schools to promote the UN.

Will the cut encourage them?

The cut is due to the fact that they are not active. We will not spend taxpayers' money if nothing is happening. My door is open and I cannot say more than that.

Decentralisation posed a significant challenge to Irish Aid in its knowledge management, the protection of corporate memory and the transfer of highly specialised staff from one location to another. There were 200 applicants from Limerick from the central applications facility, which makes it one of the foremost locations of choice for people in the public service. There are 124 posts earmarked for transfer to Limerick, 35 of which have come from Irish Aid and 16 from the rest of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which represents 40% of the total staff requirement needed to move the operation to Limerick.

The senior management team will be in place by the autumn, which includes the director general and the eight section heads who work under him in Irish Aid. We have acquired a site in Henry Street, immediately behind the old county council offices. It will be a new-build operation, but we have been assured by the OPW that it will be built by June 2007. The heads of agreement have been reached with the owner of the property. That is also under way. Five of the 24 specialists at headquarters have applied to move to Limerick. None of our senior or principal specialists is among them, and there remains work for us to do in order to enhance the quality of the programme when it is delivered from there.

Perhaps I might respond to some of the other questions raised.

Chile was mentioned, and I have also been lobbied by the Chilean ambassador. The reason that Chile has an embassy here is that it conducts a great deal of trade with Ireland, not least in wine. It is obviously something that we keep under review. Chile is accredited from Buenos Aires, and I understand that the ambassador travels there quite regularly. We also have an honorary consul in Santiago. In Central America, we have honorary consuls in El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama.

Ultimately, it is a matter of prioritising our resources. Over the last few years, particularly in the EU, we have tried to plug the gaps. We have the Asia strategy, and much of our current focus regarding embassies relates, as in the case of Chile, to the type of business that the countries in question conduct with us. That is one reason why we examined the Asia strategy. However, we will keep the Chilean issue under review.

Returning to the UN association, it is not a real cut in expenditure. A one-off grant of €12,000 was made to it to upgrade and renew office equipment. There was also a one-off grant of €8,000 for an IT upgrade in 2005. It was not an actual cut. We are willing to work with them, and I have asked officials to support them in any promotion. I have said to them that I might like some focus on schools.

Regarding Latin America, Deputy Michael D. Higgins makes the point that dynamic change is taking place. Although it attracted some publicity, there was a very good meeting between EU leaders that the Taoiseach attended. I was at a previous EU-Latin America meeting. They are held regularly, and there is no doubt that we must engage with those countries in a more sustained manner, particularly as part of the EU.

We have been very strong around the table regarding continuation of aid to the Palestinian people. We have strongly urged that any aid to be given under the definition of basic needs must be as wide as possible. It is not true that the EU has terminated aid to the Palestinians. A month or two ago, it released €120 million in humanitarian assistance. However, markers must be put down regarding the need for Hamas to accept the peace process and its principles. Yesterday, at the foreign ministers' meeting, the EU decided to take the lead regarding the temporary mechanisms for channelling international assistance to the Palestinian people. The Council also decided yesterday that priority should be given to meeting basic needs, including health services. Ireland was to the fore in arguing that.

What about the unilateral extension of settlements?

Again, that is a political issue. Ireland was very strong at the last meeting regarding the continuation of the wall and the settlements. In all this, we must be balanced, and I agree that we must condemn acts on both sides. We cannot on the one hand be hard on Hamas without being hard regarding commitments from the Israelis on the roadmap and fulfilment of its criteria.

Iran is an issue that arises at every Ministers' meeting, and great work is done behind the scenes by officials. It is unfair to say that other countries are out of the loop in this regard because the three EU Ministers more or less represent the EU's interests. We have very solid engagement at official and ministerial level, and I am more than happy that our interests and views in this regard are represented. At present the EU is considering what package of measures might be put in place to entice Iran to move.

What Deputy Michael Higgins says about Iran's entitlement under the non-proliferation treaty is true. I was in the UN last year when Deputy Allen came across me meeting the Iranian UN representative. He very strongly made the point to Ireland as a member of the EU that his country only wished to exercise its entitlements under the non-proliferation treaty. However, the IAEA has quite clearly found that there has been a hiding or non-disclosure of the full information and a process clearly designed for more than the peaceful creation of nuclear energy, and we must be very conscious of that. I agree with Deputy Allen when he says that people speak with forked tongues regarding disarmament on the one hand and non-proliferation on the other. I made that point very strongly in at least two speeches to the UN on the non-proliferation treaty.

Regarding human trafficking from Romania——

I asked how the Minister would be voting.

I will come to that presently.

Human trafficking has been flagged by the Commission in today's report on Bulgaria and Romania, and the EU and Ireland in particular will keep a very close eye on it. As I said, I have already raised this issue with some of the foreign ministers representing those countries.

On the US-India question, it is fair to say that the disagreement gives us genuine concerns. We are examining the issue, which is very complex, and discussing it internally. We will also see how other EU member states treat it. This must be approved by the US Congress. As the Deputy said, the Nuclear Suppliers Group will have to discuss the proposals to exempt India. We would prefer to await the outcome of discussions in the US Congress before making a final decision. It is fair to say that we have considerable concerns about it, and we are examining it very closely. I have already dealt with Iran.

On the question of decentralisation, we are actively examining how we might have senior management in place as quickly as possible. A fair number are already in place, and we feel that by the autumn we will have the full team of senior management.

I thank the Minister. On behalf of the select committee, I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending. I will now suspend the meeting for 15 to 20 minutes, after which we will consider Vote 29.

Sitting suspended at 5.20 p.m. and resumed at 5.40 p.m.

We are back in public session. I call the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to address the select committee on Vote 29 — International Co-Operation — for approximately 15 minutes. His presentation will be followed by statements by the spokespersons.

I am conscious of the time constraints on members and I have, therefore, edited my script. I have, however, circulated the full script for the benefit of members.

I thank the Chairman and members for this opportunity to address them on Vote 29. The Vote represents how the Government uses taxpayers' money to address the great challenges facing the world today. It is incumbent on us, as guardians of that function, to spend it to the greatest effect. We must show that aid works.

Irish Aid recently facilitated a visit to programme countries by a number of members of this committee and other Oireachtas Members. The Chairman and a number of members recently visited Ethiopia and others have also visited Uganda. These visits are invaluable and give us good feedback on how matters are operating on the ground. We very much welcome that and also throw down the challenge to the committee to devise a role for itself in terms of the ongoing scrutiny of our programme.

As well as providing examples of Irish Aid's work, Ethiopia and Uganda provide specific examples of the particular challenges and difficulties we face. In the past year, the situation in both countries has presented us with real cause for concern. In Uganda, concern was such that a decision was taken in 2005 to reduce the budget for assistance by €3 million. That decision was not taken lightly but it was one which I firmly believe was necessary.

Governance is one of the four key focal points for the Irish Aid programme identified by the Taoiseach and me at a meeting in the UN last September. We will not cut and run at the first sign of trouble, but we must be responsible to the people we are trying to help and to the taxpayers who fund our programme. I continue to encourage this committee to propose new ways of being engaged in the oversight of the Irish Aid programme.

We are committed to meeting the UN target of overseas development assistance of 0.7% of GNP by 2012. As a first step towards doing so, this year the ODA budget will total €734 million, the highest it has ever been. This represents Government spending of more than €170 for every man, woman and child in the country and imposes on us two obligations, namely, to show members of the public the purpose for which their money is being used and to ensure that it is being used well on their behalf, because doing good is no excuse for not doing it well.

Work on the White Paper is progressing well and it will published later this year. We envisage a publication date for the White Paper, the first ever of its kind, of September of this year. Informed by the consultation process throughout the country, it will represent the goals and actions that will define Irish Aid in the coming years.

The White Paper will also set out new ideas and explore new ways of working. We will establish a one-stop-shop volunteering centre which, hopefully, will be located in the heart of Dublin. It will function as an information centre on Irish Aid and as a place where people interested in volunteering overseas could access relevant information. The Taoiseach has asked for a great national debate on the issue of volunteering at domestic level. One of the most encouraging factors, now that the country has become more wealthy, is that there is a huge appetite for overseas volunteering emerging.

We have substantially increased our funding to non-governmental organisations and civil society, including missionaries. I expect that this year we will deliver well in excess of €100 million in aid via our NGO partners. We have increased our funding to humanitarian emergencies. It was €60 million this year compared to €24 million in 2004. This represents 8% of total ODA.

Funding on HIV-AIDS and communicable diseases will exceed €100 million in 2006. The Taoiseach again gave priority to this area at the summit last September, which I and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, attended. We have doubled the level of assistance in this area, which is a tangible sign of our commitment both to reach the ODA target and to respond to the ongoing human tragedy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The establishment of the Irish rapid response initiative will help meet these needs. It will pre-position humanitarian supplies, create a rapid response register and enhance the overall capacity of this country to respond to and with our key partners. This year, we contributed €10 million to the UN's financial rapid response mechanism, the central emergency response fund or CERF. That was established in response to discussions at UN level on how the international community can collectively improve its response to huge disasters when they occur. There were many such disasters in 2005 and the justification for the creation of that fund is provided by the sheer extent and magnitude of those disasters.

We have sharpened our focus on Africa with a humanitarian and recovery funding package earlier this year, amounting to over €26 million, the largest single such package of assistance given by Ireland. We are increasing research into pro-poor agriculture to assist international efforts to address famine and food insecurity. We are increasing our funding in respect of governance, that is, public sector reform, anti-corruption and human rights commissions, civil society organisations and so forth. We are examining ways in which we can contribute to development through engagement with the private sector. Hopefully, there will be a number of announcements in the autumn in that regard. We have put a special emphasis on the gender issue, establishing the gender-based violence consortium to tackle this widespread abuse. I pay tribute to Ms MaryRobinson, who has been of huge assistance on this issue. She is leading from the front in terms of giving us good guidance and sharing her knowledge and expertise to develop and finesse our programme content on this issue.

Preliminary figures for 2005 show that Irish Aid contributed €61.5 million to the three main Irish NGOs, Concern, Trócaire and GOAL. This scheme, the multi-annual programme scheme, MAPS, provided over €115 million to our partners under it — that is, Concern, Christian Aid, GOAL, SelfHelp Development and Trócaire — between 2003 and 2005. This second round, or MAPS II, will be a five-year programme involving five NGOs. This year alone, some €54 million in funding will be provided. The five-year cycle of the MAPS II should see €250 million go to MAPS NGOs. We are particularly proud of the fact that we are extending the funding cycles to five years. We are taking that general approach with all the partners with which we deal in development. We want five-year cycles of funding for our partner countries, for the civil society and charity NGOs with which we work and, indeed, for the UN organisations that we fund, where we are the lead funder in a global sense.

The main beneficiaries of MAPS II funding include Concern, GOAL, Trócaire and Médicins sans Frontières. I have just approved funding of over €10 million to a number of NGOs for emergency humanitarian and recovery projects in Africa which are not covered by MAPS. The MAPS funding does not represent everything we contribute to some of the major Irish NGOs for humanitarian interventions and emergencies. The Department is particularly proud of its relationship with the NGOs in Ireland and of their work in this area. GOAL, Trócaire and Concern are highly regarded internationally for the efficiency with which they deploy their resources on the ground when a humanitarian disaster occurs.

According to the World Food Programme, one child dies every five seconds from hunger or hunger-related causes. In other words, by the time the two hours of our discussions close today, 1,440 children will have died from a lack of food or basic nutrition. A total of 25,000 people will die today from hunger-related causes. More people die from hunger than in wars and more die from hunger and malnutrition every year than are killed by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. This is a challenge that we have taken seriously. It was also one of the four priority areas the Taoiseach outlined in his contribution to the UN debate last September.

Since I addressed the committee in June of last year, an unprecedented momentum has been generated by a succession of high-profile events that have taken place or that were then in prospect. These include the Gleneagles G8 meeting, the millennium review summit and the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. That momentum creates an expectation of progress.

The UN has set itself the challenge of reform. The aim is to ensure that it is effective, well co-ordinated and cost efficient. Ireland supports this initiative. We are currently establishing a review of our funding relationship with the UN. We are prepared to scale up our contribution as long as the UN can demonstrate that it is working effectively and efficiently and delivering value for money. This is our approach, not just to the UN but also in general with regard to how we dispense aid. As the overseas aid programme goes through arguably its most exciting period to date, given that it is to grow threefold between now and 2012, both taxpayers and Members of the Oireachtas will demand that we insist on obtaining value for money and putting that to the forefront, although not at the expense of humanitarian concerns.

The aid programme is currently enjoying the fastest period of expansion in its history. Managing a programme of €1 billion or €1.5 billion is a qualitatively different thing to managing one of €250 million, which was the budget six years ago. In the past, its quality has been affirmed by the OECD. That is something of which we can be enormously proud. I do not say that on my behalf or on that of Government's; successive Administrations have brought Ireland to the point where it is a global leader in this area.

The challenge is to enhance quality, accountability and impact. This cannot be done without human resources and expertise within Irish Aid. That means maintaining the right mix of technical expertise, professional auditing and evaluation and the diplomatic skills of analysis and policy implementation. We are also managing these changes in a way that facilitates the decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick, seeking to ensure the continuity of the quality of the programme and retention of corporate knowledge.

We can take pride from the fact that Ireland has never been indifferent in the area of development. The foundation of the Irish Aid programme stands on the long tradition of Irish support for the developing world and the victims of hunger and poverty.

I congratulate the Minister and staff on the presentation. Unfortunately, I had to miss the earlier discussion, which was also of interest.

Which are the most vulnerable countries in terms of war, starvation and human rights abuses? Obviously they are located in Africa. There are other countries with problems but the African countries have the combined problems of war, starvation, AIDS and HIV at the same time, which creates a huge problem.

To what degree does the Minister believe it is possible to make progress on these issues? Is the international community capable of making realistic inroads in that regard, particularly in the aftermath of debt relief and CAP reform in the WTO? Are signs emerging of the benefits that should be accruing as a result of debt relief? Is there any sign of donor fatigue and, if so, what should we do to address it? Is the Minister satisfied, for example, that the funds are being used in the right way? If they are in the hands of the NGOs and responsible people, they will obviously be properly used. It is an ongoing problem to try to ensure that continues.

UN reform has been referred to also in the debate. I wonder whether specific targets are being met on UN reform. What are those targets and when are they expected to be completed?

I welcome the Minister and his officials and thank them for their co-operation during the year. In his speech, the Minister referred to the significant events that took place during the past year, including the G8 meeting, the WTO talks and the Millennium review summit. It would be useful to this committee if we received an ongoing update on where stands the commitments made at these meetings. One of the millennium development goals related to HIV and I understand the pledged funds are significantly in deficit, that what was pledged neither arrived nor has been committed. The proportion of some of these goals is below 40%. The Gleneagles meeting led to some very misleading commentary in which debt relief was bartered for reductions in aid. It is not clear precisely where the net benefit was to fall.

Many non-governmental organisations hold the view that the WTO meetings currently taking place, while representing a shift in direction from Cancún, do not represent anything like a development round. I have only a few minutes in which to raise these points but the Minister knows well what is at stake here.

While I wish the programme well, I cannot understand why the body's title was changed to Irish Aid. It makes no sense. Development Co-operation Ireland was launched, understood and accepted. It was working well and it seemed an eccentric decision to change the name again.

Perhaps I have misread the Minister's speech to some extent, but can I take it the one-stop-shop is projected for the future or does it exist already?

No, it does not exist already but hopefully it will before the end of the year.

We have been seeking it for some time but it has a "will of the wisp" character to it.

People ask if the ghosts of the old APSO are still around but a question arises concerning staff. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, said that last year 20 staff were recruited. I presume that was from the old list that was conducted by the Local Appointments Commission. Few people understand how that commission works concerning the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am choosing my words carefully and deliberately. As regards the 20 who were recruited last year and the six who were to be recruited this year, I ask the Minister of State if the increase in staff to which he referred in his speech is, in fact, part of the general increase.

No. I would like to clarify that straight away. In our Estimates campaign with the Minister for Finance, Irish Aid secured 20 additional positions notwithstanding the embargo. We are very grateful for that. We got 20 posts immediately, which are quite separate from the overarching 20 referred to by my senior colleague.

It just happens to be the same number.

Yes but it is important that we have this on the record. Staff with a sense of duty come from other parts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and from other Departments to this section. Some of us on the outside who have been looking at the development area for a long time know how complex it is and the training that is required. What training has been provided for people coming to take up positions in Limerick?

The Minister of State and I agree on the importance of a human rights component in development matters. I have been concerned, however, about the absence of specificity in the different statements on the issue of governance that have been made by various European governments and some outside Europe. There is a body that operates from the United States and which runs courses in governance in the Philippines. It has a fairly notorious reputation. It encourages new and emerging democracies on their duties to commitments made in the past by dictators to multinational corporations.

What precise proposals are being made to transfer models of governance between Ireland and other EU states and the receiving countries? I am very much in favour of many of the matters to which the Minister referred in his speech. I have been in touch with orphans in Uganda. Many of those who were orphaned in northern Uganda were previously in Rwanda and have not been retraced by the International Red Cross. Many of them were provided with primary education and wished to continue in secondary education but the costs involved in Uganda were between £1,450 to £1,500 sterling per year. I find it unusual that NGOs are not dealing specifically with the provision of second level education in Uganda and other countries. Universal primary education and gender equality are among the great aims of development. Many of the youngsters involved want to train as teachers or in local skills but there seems to be a gap in the provision of such training at that level. I am concerned because those who are providing secondary education in African countries are charging high fees for it.

As there is no Technical Group representative present, we will proceed to questions.

Perhaps the Minister would like to reply to those questions. There have been quite a lot already or does he want to take all the questions at the end?

We will take the questions now.

I welcome the Minister and I also welcome the ongoing focus on Africa. Everybody agrees that even as the budget expands, the needs of Africa are so evident and, as yet, unmet. This is particularly the case in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 10% of the world's population and 60% of the world's AIDS population. I agree with the Minister when he says the budget has been sorted, as have the political disagreements over the budget, and our progress towards UN targets has been put to bed. More than anyone, I welcome that. He said we now have to prove that such aid works. As we grow the programme, it is time to demand some hard evidence from scientific research as to which of our interventions, paid for by Irish Aid, are working. Given our focus on Africa and on HIV and AIDS, I welcome the authorisation of €100 million to be spent on HIV and AIDS and communicable diseases in 2006. How much of that €100 million will go to the Global Fund for AIDS and how much will go to missionary orders and NGOs? The RED initiative, which was launched today, will boost the coffers of the global fund by using the benevolence and support of the corporate sector and of individuals. I am interested to know Ireland's contribution to the global fund. A small staff of perhaps 200 people based in Geneva work on this massive fund which funds interventions by NGOs and other actors throughout the world in response to the needs of HIV and AIDS victims.

Is there ongoing evaluation of what is working for the people who are suffering? Even in our aid programme, we should start to include financial support for a scientific understanding of what is working and whether the resources going into interventions are proven scientifically to work. We need more of that research which is being done quietly in places such as the Royal College of Surgeons and other institutions. However, such research is not sufficiently funded by governments which need to know how we are doing in the battle against tuberculosis and polio because billions of euro of taxpayers' money will go into these interventions. Over a 20 year period, we do not really know what has been effective. Are we funding enough scientific people to medically assess the impact of our fight against AIDS and other terrible diseases such as malaria?

I refer to reproductive and maternal health. Given the Bush Administration's opposition to family planning services throughout the world as a result of its Christian ethos, it is opposed to UNFPA funding for reproductive health programmes in Africa, in particular. This has had catastrophic consequences on that continent in which there has been a population explosion, particularly in Ethiopia which is so dear to our hearts because we have helped that country for so long. I would like reassurance from the Minister of State. We always held the line, notwithstanding opposition and a ferocious lobby against Irish Aid funding the UNFPA, but I would like the Minister of State to outline whether we still support reproductive health in a vigorous way.

We very much support it and we are holding the line very strongly.

It is very important we voice our support in that area at UN fora. With the populations in these poor countries, such as Ethiopia, increasing so much, it is important we are very proactive in that regard.

Are we sufficiently funding scientific research and medically-based evidence of the study of diseases to know whether our interventions are successful over a long period? The second issue to which I referred was reproductive and maternal health.

I strongly support what Deputy O'Donnell said. The question is, are there longitudinal studies on the effective delivery of aid in different places? In regard to having a good effect on the ground, Professor James Scott from Yale published a book two years ago which suggested that rational economic evaluation of aid projects in Asia, Africa and elsewhere faced a difficulty in that they ignored local wisdom, village management, native knowledge, etc.

What strikes me when looking at different aid programmes is that since the independence of many African states in the 1960s, the assumption has been that almost nothing can come out of sociological and anthropological studies on aid delivery when, in fact, everything comes of out these disciplines, such as how to manage a seeds management programme, the use of seeds and the planting seasons. There is a desperate need for these studies. There is a need for longitudinal studies on the medical side, in particular, and there is a need for sociological and anthropological studies on how international agencies interact. The suggestion in Professor Scott's study was that the World Bank frequently made mistakes by asking the wrong questions about the problem.

There is a great danger as the aid budget increases that people will impose excessively rational, inappropriate models of evaluation. Longitudinal studies are required in some areas but village studies are needed as well. I do not know of anybody who is doing them in any African country, which is a great pity. For example, in the case of Zambia and elsewhere, the steps being taken by governments in regard to privatisation of banking has the effect of destroying the credit system supporting the seed programme. This, in turn, creates vulnerability in regard to the purchase of seeds, etc. There is a need for these studies, which we should commission. People are trained to do these studies.

We are also involved in a type of crude policy position. In the old days, we delivered things ourselves but now we hand everything over to others. However, there is a middle position, which is, there are new areas of knowledge and new forms of information required for good planning. It is a tragedy that expertise in some of the donor countries is not moved, even temporarily, to set up agencies of investigation in these countries. I am very worried we will have a totally inappropriate, exclusively monetary, economic evaluation of the aid programme. Literature is available and good scholars are doing this work on which we can build.

I am glad the Minister of State is bringing forward a one-stop-shop for volunteers. I was beginning to wonder what had happened to APSO. The fear was that it would get lost in the mix and would not be identified so this is a worthwhile development. A number of people have asked about where they should go to volunteer for six months. A person who works in financial services and wants to give six to 12 months of his or her time would be good in the area of governance but he or she cannot get a place because he or she has no health or education expertise. The committee has tried to emphasise the need to use people with good governance skills. I take it the one-stop-shop is appropriate in this regard.

According to presentations made to the committee earlier this year, a sum of €12 million was allocated to missionaries last year but members were surprised that the sum was not greater and asked for it to be re-examined. Vote 29 provides allocations of €14 million under IMRS, €17 million in development assistance and €3.2 million for other activities. These are different from the allocations made in the previous year. What has happened? It may well be that missionaries have been given an increased allocation.

The committee has raised the issue of Bethlehem University because members are concerned about it having visited the area. It is regarded as one of the best equipped universities in Palestine but that may not be difficult and the wrong impression might be created. The university is doing marvellous work in extremely difficult circumstances. A sum of €225,000 has been allocated for the years 2005 to 2007 and it was suggested this might be reduced. The committee appealed to the Minister to maintain the funding because of the current pressures exerted on the Palestinian people. The midwifery courses laid on by the university are absolutely essential.

A sum of €734 million has been allocated in development aid — this represents a tremendous increase — comprising €600 million for international co-operation measures, with €75 million contributed by various Departments and €59 million from the Department of Finance. Will the latter amount be maintained? This represents a figure of almost 0.5%, the 2007 target. We should break out bottles of champagne to congratulate the Minister on the progress achieved in this regard. Will he clarify what is likely in the future in this regard? According to our figures, a sum of €749 million would have to be provided in 2007 to ensure the UN target is met by 2010. The Minister is ahead of the Government's promises.

Some of us might say the Government is behind on them.

Everyone would like to know that the recent promises will be kept no matter which party is in government.

I refer to Burma, where a crisis is developing. The Thailand-Burma Border Consortium appeared before the committee recently, together with representatives of Trócaire which the Department supports. The delegation highlighted that the situation was critical with 140,000 living in official refugee camps along the boarder with Thailand, while at least 250,000 were living outside the camps. The representatives reckoned that more than 500,000 were displaced in eastern Burma. The TBBC has been feeding and looking after the people concerned but if no further funds are received or committed, the consortium will have to reduce supplies of rice, fish paste, cooking oil, chilies, fortified flour by 32%, which will impact on refugee health, psychological well being and Thailand Government policy on refugees. That decision must be taken by 30 May on the basis of commitments of funding. The consortium sought more funding from Irish Aid through Trócaire. It currently receives €200,000 from Irish Aid and another €40,000 from Trócaire, which equates to 1% of its budget. It requested a considerable increase to maintain support in future years. I ask the Minister to examine this issue. Everybody is familiar with the atrocities in Burma and the horrific conditions that pertain. The committee is anxious that support for the refugees is maintained.

I thank the Minister for arranging for a committee delegation to visit and see at first hand the positive impact of Ireland's support for the social safety nets programme which provides 5 million of the poorest Ethiopian people with work for which they receive cash or food. The programme is based on the work Irish Aid was doing in the first instance and extending it more widely throughout Ethiopia. Water management is a key element of the programme developed by Irish Aid. We visited a year and a half ago and the progress made on the water management project was unbelievable. We were permitted to visit the inmates in Kaliti prison and met the Prime Minister for two hours, which gave us an opportunity to make clear our views on events in the country. We encouraged him to support the work begun by Irish Aid, which the Ethiopians hold in high regard. Committee members found the trip particularly valuable because of the first hand knowledge we had garnered.

I will respond to the Chairman's question first. We need a detailed proposal from the Thailand Burma Border Consortium but would be positively disposed to a request from it. We are conscious of its funding needs and anxious to respond.

Bethlehem University is one of the longest assisted institutions in our aid programme. This year we have committed €300,000 to it. At its request, the money has been frontloaded. A sum of €150,000 will be provided this year and the rest in years two and three. This is in response to its need and we are satisfied with that. We do not foresee assistance being stopped once the current three-year programme expires. We must evaluate the issue of aid dependence generally in all our programmes, including project funding of this kind. We do not want to create a situation where an institution or programme we fund is unsustainable because it is too dependent on our assistance.

I accompanied the Chairman on that trip and I understand that British consultants were examining the Bethlehem University project. I do not wish to be racist, but are we satisfied that some of the consultants we appoint have an affinity to Irish and departmental political philosophy? Some of the recommendations seem to be at variance with our feelings towards the project.

There is a very bad record.

Without going into our relationship with our ancient enemy, there was one British consultant on the team of the company selected to evaluate our programme. I do not wish to discuss the nationality of consultants. We hire a diversity of people, not all of whom are Irish, to evaluate our programmes. I would love it if we had the capacity to hire Irish consultants to evaluate our programmes. However, we depend very much on local and non-Irish staff. I do not want to get into that debate. Sometimes consultants can give bad results or give good or bad value. It is a common feature of all public policy inquiries that consultants can produce reports that tell us what we already know. I would prefer not to enter that debate.

I thought it was an overseas firm of consultants.

In many areas of public policy we are obliged to seek tenders openly in the market in order to achieve best value.

The selection was made on that basis.

There was no selection by the Minister.

The Chairman inquired about staying ahead of the target. It is correct that we are ahead of the target, but I add a caution in that regard. We are only ahead of target this year because the Minister decided to contribute to the Gleneagles package. The €59 million we provided by way of contribution to the package is unusual because most other countries contributing to it will do so between now and 2044. We have front-loaded our commitment and are paying the entire contribution in one year. This is a generous gesture on the Minister's part and has helped to make the figures look good this year.

The interim target remains and we want to be on a contribution of 0.5% in 2007. We are already there, but the reason for our caution is that we have seen our position as a donor move between eighth and tenth in terms of contribution per capita in world terms. This is because different countries write off debt at different times. We are not in a position, because we have never been a lender in this area, to write off debt. The Portuguese, for example, overtook us with a once-off contribution last year in terms of their position in the per capita top ten league table. We expect, because of the nature of our programme and our commitment in generous untied aid, that we will recover our position. We are in an unusual period where countries move ahead or back and forth quite quickly because of debt write-off. Our contribution is not a debt write-off but rather a type of ex gratia contribution to debt forgiveness. It is not related to any debt owed to us over the years.

The Irish Missionary Resource Service is the main vehicle through which we fund Irish missionaries in the field. We support approximately 1,500 missionaries in the developing world. We have good reason for doing this. The IMRS is a suitable structure through which we can support applications for assistance by missionaries, in conjunction with their partners in Africa, for locally-led projects. We evaluated this funding, which amounts to €30 million over three years. A total of €12 million of this money was granted last year and €14 million will be given this year. Although we fund the IMRS to fund missionaries with Irish links in the field, this is not the exclusive or only source of funding for such missionaries. Missionary groups in the field working with local Africa-based NGOs often come to us with good ideas for funding and we fund these outside of the IMRS funding. If, therefore, we carried out a general calculation of what we contribute to missionaries in the field, it would amount to much more than the IMRS contribution. The same could be said in other areas. We fund these for the good reason that missionaries and faith-based organisations are in contact on a daily basis with 50% of those living in the developing world. This funding, therefore, makes sense in terms of aid delivery and as a vehicle for delivering such aid.

On the issue of volunteers, we are keen to reconstruct a viable alternative to APSO, which had, for a variety of reasons, outlived its purpose. Increasingly, the kind of people travelling overseas are not the enterprising generalists that would have done so in previous years but rather professionals who give limited time to facilitate an improvement in capacity in a country or situation. This is the reason we are setting up a one-stop shop that, we hope, will encourage and tap into the growing enthusiasm and appetite for volunteering in Ireland. It is strange in some ways that many people prefer and are willing to volunteer in the overseas setting. The Taoiseach and others are concerned about the nature of volunteering in the domestic area and would like to encourage it.

The Department can play a role in this area and act as a kind of human resource manager to the development sector here. In other words, we can provide assistance in training and through intern programmes within the Department and Irish Aid. We could also fund people for the UN volunteer programme. We want to be facilitators for volunteering. We do not claim to have exclusive knowledge in this area and see the one-stop centre as being there to facilitate, assist and point people in the right direction. The problem nowadays is often that while people have lots of enthusiasm, sometimes the right people go for the wrong jobs or vice versa. This area must be controlled.

There were some bad experiences in respect of the tsunami and of companies in the United Kingdom that promote volunteering as an almost commercial proposition. This is distasteful and led to bad outcomes in the case of the tsunami. People were, so to speak, stiffed for big contributions before going out to help. It was almost like volunteer tourism. This is not particularly effective, but some companies advertise on the web and exploit situations of concern to mobilise people who will basically pay a contribution towards the profitability of a company that will just put them on the ground. This is not effective and we would like to avoid it. There are signs that these companies are now beginning to advertise vigorously in Ireland, which is worrying. Such companies are out for profit rather than seeking to provide assistance. It would be a stretch of the imagination to classify their contribution as aid.

Deputy Durkan referred to difficult countries. I do not want to single out countries, but the difficult or fragile states where all the different challenges such as AIDS, poverty etc, combine with civil conflict and strife are well known. I refer, for example, to Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe — a spectacular example of a totally dysfunctional state which needs assistance but which has isolated itself — Sierra Leone and Liberia, which I visited recently. In the context of the White Paper, we are anxious to increase our involvement in the latter two countries because we believe we can play a role in contributing to their recovery. They are at the bottom level in terms of income and all indices of poverty, corruption, disease and dysfunction. We are anxious to help. I met President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and the President of Sierra Leone and they look forward to our deeper involvement in their countries.

The Deputy also referred to donor fatigue. It apprears there were signs of this phenomenon in 2005. Irish NGOs and charities suggest informally that their fund-raising efforts have recovered following the enormous generosity shown by Irish citizens in response to the tsunami. At the beginning of 2005 many made this apples and oranges comparison between the State's contribution, that is, the taxpayer's contribution, of €20 million and the €50 million raised from the public. The situation was neatly reversed by the back end of the year following the Pakistan earthquake. In that case the State made the major sustained contribution and there were signs that the public was not as prepared to be as generous, although it was still very generous. Government assistance is very valuable because it is long term and available at times when donor fatigue sets in.

Deputy Durkan asked about UN reform. Ireland is part of the group of 13 of like-minded donors which are concerned about the issue. Ireland is anxious to see action on a number of practical measures within the UN system. The concept of the Three Ones is something we want to see applied practically in the field with respect to UN agencies, with one resident co-ordinator, one programme and one budget. Prior to the summit last year there was much talk of structural reform of the United Nations. The most practical way of doing this would be by means of the Three Ones principle, whereby there is an insistence on lead actors and one co-ordinating agency. People then start working together over a period of time in a more co-operative and collaborative fashion. This, in turn, forces reform. The adoption of deep-seated structural reforms only disappoints because there can be institutional resistance. This is a practical way of doing it.

We must do something regarding Irish Aid's involvement with the UN system. We are now in the fortunate position of having plenty of leverage in the system, precisely because on a volume and per capita basis, we are among the top five or six — among the top three or four in some cases — of lead donors. We are using our influence to ensure these reforms will be achieved within the organisations involved. We are trying to link increased funding to further reform now that our programme is expanding. I will be in New York with the Taoiseach on 1 June to attend the UNGA summit and will meet representatives of one of Ireland’s partners in tackling AIDS, the Clinton Foundation, with a view to examining how we can hothouse the process of reform within the UN system with regard to one country in which we work.

Deputy Higgins asked whether aid worked. Many sceptics need to be shown that it does. On his question about longitudinal studies, there have been some very good examples of such studies dealing with aid effectiveness. I have had the opportunity to speak to Professor Sachs on a number of occasions. He is a big advocate of the notion that aid works but in certain ways and circumstances and that aid cannot be given in isolation. He is piloting the village concept in a practical way and hoping to pick out seven of 13 villages across Africa experiencing varying degrees of poverty to see what lessons can be learned. The initial reports on the studies seem to indicate it is the practical measures such as providing mosquito nets that work in this regard. Such measures enable people to be healthier and participate in a local, albeit reduced, economy, compared to ours.

Deputy Higgins is an avid reader and knows his subject very well. I refer him to David Dollar's report entitled, Assessing Aid: What works, what doesn't and why? Robert Chambers of the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex has done groundbreaking work in this area. Our programme funds the research of one of his protégés or stellar studentswho has recently come to Ireland. In answer to Deputy O'Donnells' question, we fund research in the area as a result of the magnitude of our contribution. We have appointed a technical advisory group to deal with our expenditure on tackling AIDS which has jumped from €50 million in 2005 to €100 million. This poses many challenges in terms of how the money is spent. Some of the leading health and medical professionals in the country are involved in the group, the chairman of which is Professor William Hall, a leading international expert in viral references. He is involved in the viral reference laboratory at UCD.

What funding is made available for this research? Is this an advisory group to advise on expenditure?

It is an advisory group which involves members of the medical profession and medical experts in the health sector directly in the programme. There are no big expenses associated with it and we are pleased with the enthusiasm shown by people who wish to be part of it.

Professor Sachs is correct in going for village studies, which represent a clear departure from what the World Bank was doing. The Minister of State referred to researchers in the University of Sussex which is concentrating on policy issues. It is right to do so.

On health-related issues, the survival rates between cohorts must be considered. The village studies, among others, highlight the attacks on simple fruit producing people who were advised by the World Bank to use pesticides, whereas local information suggested black ants would defeat red ants and it would be better to use leaves to protect the fruit trees. This is an example of how the anthropology of local wisdom when built into people's own craft and culture can be very valuable. I am happy that matters are beginning to move in that direction. The other studies were short-term and not able to touch generic knowledge and wisdom about plants and crops. I recommend that some of the people involved make contact with the work of individuals such as Professor James Scott in Yale.

I know of the interest of both Deputies in research and wish to reassure them that we undertake significant long-term research in the area of agriculture and food production and have also entered a significant partnership with the Health Research Bureau. I will prepare a note on the research we carry out. We have been funding practical projects such as the search for preventive measures in tackling AIDS. We have funded significant research on the development of microbicides as an effective preventive measure against the transmission of AIDS.

Deputy O'Donnell asked a very specific question about the breakdown of the figure of €100 million. We allocate €20 million to the global fund, €6 million in UN aid, €5 million to the international AIDS and vaccine initiative, locally referred to as GAVI, €5 million to the international partnership on microbicides, €5 million to polio eradication, €5 million to the regional programme and €10 million to the Clinton Foundation for AIDS. It is sometimes difficult to break down the AIDS spending because of the crossover with general health spending. We have spent significant sums in health systems. One of the big pressure points is the treatment of AIDS and how local health systems can be helped to cope with the virus. There were some very bad decisions made when AIDS first emerged and in the middle phase. There was a great rush of enthusiasm to create agencies and find funding opportunities but the systemic issue of making health systems better to deliver assistance was not considered.

The level of underfunding was extraordinary. This is why the Taoiseach was very keen to double our assistance from €50 million to €100 million and to make the pledge at the summit last September.

I remember a meeting we had with Mr. Peter Piet, executive director of UNAIDS, which shocked the Taoiseach. Mr. Piet spoke of a deficit of €8 billion in the money available to address AIDS, which is an extraordinary amount of money. It is one thing to plug a gap like that. I heard someone on the radio today criticising Bono. At least he is making an effort to raise new money for this area of treatment. Anybody criticising him in that regard is a pretty mean, low-spirited person. Ultimately, whatever one's thoughts about the Red campaign, the products involved and the commercially savvy motives of those who offer their products for this campaign, the money is going to a much-needed cause and I hope that in some small way it will contribute to the huge gap in funding that exists.

I was asked about the pledges that countries make. I do not want to get into that issue.

On the question of Irish Aid, when I took this job I was opposed to changing the name yet again. However, following consultations for the White Paper in ten locations throughout the country it became clear to me that the term Development Cooperation Ireland, however worthy in its inception, simply did not work. Many people thought it was an NGO.

The Minister of State must have met some very strange people.

They were just ordinary members of the public. Perhaps the Deputy should go and meet them.

I would not push their brains that far.

The Deputy should meet some of those people in the next year or so in order to retain his Dáil seat in Galway West.

I will indeed. I hope I do not need to translate that for them or else I would be finished.

I was an absolute sceptic on the concept of a name change. After almost two years I can now see considerable problems with promoting it. I fully stand over the decision and my senior colleague was very influential in this regard as were the officials who accompany me today. No money was wasted on rebranding it.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins and I referred to the countries that made pledges, the debt write-off, etc. Why does the Minister of State not wish to comment?

I could comment in detail.

We were not seeking it for our benefit but to ascertain how a graph might appear. What success has been achieved in the period since then? It was done with huge fanfare and credit is due to those who made the donations. The Minister of State may have answered this question while I was out of the room. To what degree are the international aid communities succeeding in the various countries severely affected by war, starvation and HIV/AIDS? For example, are they suffering from fatigue or are we winning?

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has appointed a special assistant promoting the achievement of the UN millennium development goals among parliamentarians. She visits parliaments to make the case. To achieve the UN millennium development goals by the target date will require consciousness among parliamentarians. There is an advantage in issuing a newsletter or statement outlining the status of achieving the goals and showing any shortfalls, as it would help parliamentarians.

We are nearing our finishing time. I ask the Minister of State to supply a note on the matter.

I could give the committee a note on that matter and on the debt package. The OECD issued a very good press release after its recent meeting in Paris, which I attended, setting out how different countries were performing relative to the debt. I can share that document with the Deputies present. The United Nations development programme has its own website, which outlines the progress made on the millennium development goals on a country-by-country basis.

The Minister of State should send a note to the secretariat, which can be circulated to all the members.

The debt relief package has its sceptics and critics. The Deputy referred to $25 billion being delivered following the G8 summit. Along with other like-minded donors like Norway, Sweden and others, we ensured that the bigger, richer countries were held to account in terms of replacing the debt forgiveness with actual grant-in-aid so that they were not at a loss because of that package. Broadly speaking we succeeded in that effort.

Facing into the multilateral engagement in Washington on this topic last year the G8 countries had significant concerns that they would not get wider support outside the G8 for the package. Changes were made and people are now being held to account. It is a better-focused package now than it was when it was signed. Obviously some countries receiving the aid need to make commitments on developments on governance issues.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins also asked about technical assistance. There was a trend against technical assistance as it was branded as wrong or inappropriate in the past 20 years. There is a major need for knowledge transfer in specific areas. In developing the White Paper we have considered how we can contribute in that important area.

On governance issues, I was asked how other partner countries are holding people to account. I referred to this matter in the Dáil last week. Increasingly we are seeing donors setting benchmarks, milestones or deliverables in terms of human rights, respect for the law, democracy and the development of democratic institutions and hard-edged institutions of accountability before even writing a programme for a partner country. It is not conditionality: it makes it clear to the recipient that these are the kinds of changes we expect to see in our development programme.

I thank the Minister of State for his enthusiasm and forthrightness in giving his answers. We would be grateful if he could give us a note on any other matters that might be of interest of the members.

When the Minister of State referred to Central America, would he consider widening this to Central America and the Caribbean to allow applications from countries that have a relationship with Ireland, such as Montserrat?

We will look into the matter. I would welcome a note from the Deputy on the matter. The question was not answered earlier. We are strengthening our development aid position in Central America in the context of the White Paper.

That is to be welcomed. I congratulate the Minister of State.

On behalf of the select committee, I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials for attending the meeting. In particular I thank the Secretary General, Mr. Dermot Gallagher, the assistant secretary, Ms Marie Cross, the director general of Irish Aid, Mr. Ronan Murphy, the deputy director, Mr. Brendan Rodgers, and the counsellors on development aid, Mr. Gerry Garvan and Mr. John Morahan for staying until this late hour. We have very good communications with the Department and we welcome the support it has given us in the work we are doing. The members are passionately interested in the work and want to be of every assistance in achieving the objectives set.