2009 Annual Output Statement — Department of Foreign Affairs.

I remind members to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they can cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee rooms.

The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Revised Estimates for Votes 28 and 29, both of which have been referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann. In line with the expanded budgetary process, an annual output statement has been provided. Members will be aware that, as part of the budgetary process initiated by the Minister for Finance in 2005, annual output statements are submitted by Departments for consideration by Oireachtas committees. This important initiative is intended to facilitate better parliamentary involvement in the budgetary and Estimates processes.

A proposed timetable for the meeting has been circulated to members. It allows for opening statements by the Minister and Minister of State and the Opposition spokespersons, followed by an open discussion on the Votes by way of a question and answer session. Members will also be invited to comment on each of the six main programmes in the Department's annual output statement which was circulated last week. They are: Northern Ireland-Anglo Irish issues; international fund policy; the European Union; promoting trade, investment and culture; Irish Aid, and Irish citizens abroad.

On behalf of members, I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power. They are accompanied by the following officials: Mr. David Cooney, Secretary General; Mr. David Donoghue, political director; Mr. Ray Bassett, head of consular and passport division; Ms Mary Whelan, head of division for the promotion of Ireland abroad; Mr. Adrian O'Neill, head of corporate services; Mr. Ciaran Madden, head of finance; Ms Julie Connell, corporate services; Ms Barbara Jones and Mr. Aidan O'Hara, EU division; Mr. Brendan Rogers, director general, Irish Aid; Mr. Michael Gaffney, assistant secretary, Irish Aid; Mr. John Foyle, head of finance, Irish Aid, and Mr. Michael Kiernan, financial controller, Irish Aid. Briefing material provided by the Department, with the annual output statement, has been circulated to members.

I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I thank members of the committee for giving me this opportunity to present the 2009 Revised Estimates. I propose to discuss Vote 28 and the annual output statement. In line with established practice, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, will deal in detail with Vote 29.

The context of our work has changed significantly since we considered this time last year the 2008 Estimates for the Foreign Affairs group of Votes. The economic and financial crisis and our national efforts to promote economic recovery provide the backdrop to everything we now do. The current crisis means the resources available to us are contracting. Overall, the net Estimate for Vote 28 is down more than 11% on the figures we considered last year. There is an impact on the Department's programmes, including a cut of €2 million in the provision for contributions to international organisations and it has been decided not to proceed with the peace monument, for which provision was made in 2008. The greater part of the cuts is being borne on the administration side.

In terms of pay and staff numbers, the Department is subject to the overall cost control measures put in place by the Department of Finance. The non-pay administrative provision in Vote 28, in practice the daily running costs of the Department and the mission network, is down more than 15% on the comparable figure for last year and I expect there will be further cuts in the years ahead. Cuts of this scale will impact on how we do business and we need to adapt to the changing realities. In a few years' time, beyond the current crisis, the Department will look different. Some changes are already evident. For example, as a result of resources constraints, we will shortly close the office of the consulate general in Cardiff. Change will not be driven solely by resource issues. I am determined to ensure the network of embassies and other offices is aligned with our priorities as they evolve. The decision to open a new embassy in the United Arab Emirates, within existing resources, is a reflection of this determination.

I will deal with the annual output statement to give an indication of how the resources provided for my Department will be used. Members have been provided with a copy of the statement for 2009. The annual output statement sets out six programmes for my Department. Each programme corresponds to a high level goal in the Department's strategy statement which I discussed with the joint committee last November

I have mentioned briefly the changed financial and economic circumstances in which we now find ourselves. These changed circumstances bring further to the fore the work of promoting Ireland's economic interests overseas. There is no more important task for my Department. While we work closely with the State agencies, in particular IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, we have a distinctive role. The unique status of embassies gives access, in most countries, to the highest levels of government and business. In addition to promoting Ireland as a trading partner and a place in which to invest, there is the less tangible but equally important work of addressing the challenges to Ireland's reputation, challenges which were particularly acute in the first six months of the year. Through the network of overseas missions, the staff of my Department have been targeting opinion-formers in the media, as well as in business and government, to deliver up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive information on Ireland's economy and the measures we are taking to address the current difficulties. Ireland's reputation took some severe hits in the first half of the year, not all of them deserved. However, my Department has been monitoring international press coverage of Ireland and supporting the efforts of Ministers to ensure the true facts of the situation are known, including the steps taken by the Government to address the current challenges. We can now see a turnaround in the level and tone of the coverage of Ireland in the international media.

The six high level goals are not pursued in isolation. There is a "read-across" between our activities in various areas. An important example this year is the convening of the global Irish economic forum at Farmleigh in September. We are building on our ongoing outreach to the Diaspora to explore how the Irish at home and abroad and those with a strong interest in Ireland can work together and contribute to our overall efforts at economic recovery. This is a major and innovative undertaking, bringing together, for the first time, the most influential members of the Irish community worldwide with a record of high achievement in business, politics, culture and sport. I am delighted by the extremely positive response to the initiative from those who have been invited and look forward to a weekend of great significance.

The day-to-day work of protecting and assisting our citizens overseas remains a cornerstone of the Department's work. Members of the House will be more familiar than most with the Department's consular work, assisting individuals and families in situations of difficulty or distress abroad. Increased prosperity and the opening up of international air travel means that more Irish people are travelling abroad and, particularly in the case of young people, more are requiring the intervention of my Department. Last year it assisted over 200 families who had suffered bereavement abroad. The officials working in the Department's consular division are called upon week in, week out to give assistance to bereaved and distressed families and friends. I recognise the efficiency and compassion with which they carry out their delicate work.

This is a challenging year for the Department's passport service. In previous years the Department has recruited additional temporary staff to enable it to cope with the seasonal surge in demand for passports in the peak period from April to July. However, as a result of economic constraints, the Department was unable to recruit temporary staff for 2009 until very recently. To cope with demand, staff from within the Department have been redeployed to the passport offices, but capacity remains well below 2008 levels. At the same time, demand for passports last month was 5% greater than in May 2008. The passport offices are experiencing a very high level of customer demand. I record my appreciation of the hard work of staff in these offices.

In terms of financial resources allocated to citizens abroad and Diaspora activities, I am pleased to say the emigrant support programme allocation has been maintained at its 2008 level this year. This is a clear indication of the high priority the Government attaches to our overseas communities.

When I addressed the committee this time last year, we were in the immediate aftermath of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Following the referendum, an all-party Oireachtas sub-committee was established to examine Ireland's future in the European Union. The sub-committee established the broadest possible political consensus on the best way forward and recommended strongly that Ireland remain at the heart of the European Union. Also following the referendum, the Government commissioned independent research to identify the reasons behind the vote. The research showed that, while the people remained extremely supportive of our European Union membership and wanted to maintain our highly positive approach to the Union, many considered they did not have the information and knowledge they needed. The research also pointed to a number of issues which had given rise to uncertainty in the minds of the electorate. These included the composition of the European Commission, corporation tax, neutrality, abortion and workers' rights.

The Taoiseach reported to the European Council last December and set out the people's concerns relating to the Lisbon treaty. Our fellow EU member states agreed that the concerns of the people should be addressed. We secured the agreement of all partners that, if the Lisbon treaty entered into force, all member states would retain the right to nominate a Commissioner. The other member states also agreed that Ireland would be given legally binding guarantees in the areas of taxation, defence and neutrality and on certain provisions of the Constitution relating to the right to life, education and the family. European Union leaders also agreed that the high importance which the European Union attached to issues such as workers' rights would be confirmed. We have been working intensively with the Czech Presidency, our European Union partners and the European Union institutions on the texts of these legal guarantees with the objective of successfully concluding discussions on the guarantees at the European Council later this week. If the Government is satisfied with the outcome, we are committed to holding a further referendum before the end of October.

Last year the Department of Foreign Affairs was allocated a budget of €5.8 million for the referendum. In the light of the current economic circumstances, if a referendum on the Lisbon treaty is confirmed for later this year, a budget of approximately €5 million should be sufficient for both the Department and the Referendum Commission to fulfil their respective responsibilities. I am keeping the issue under review with no definitive figure yet finalised. To date, a provision of €4 million has been made in the 2009 Estimates for expenses related to a further referendum. If more is required, we will source it from existing departmental resources.

My Department continues to work to consolidate peace on our island and ensure full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. Great progress has been made in recent years, including the restoration of the institutions and the bedding down of the Executive. That said, we must be mindful of the work that remains at political and community levels. A key political challenge this year will be the devolution of policing and justice powers, an issue on which I am in close contact with the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State.

We were reminded in March that a small number of individuals, in taking the lives of three men, still wished to pull Northern Ireland back to the days of violence and despair. However, the people stood together and answered this challenge, indicating clearly that there was no going back. It is also clear that there is a continuing need for reconciliation work, now and into the future. Sectarianism remains a real challenge to the future stability of Northern Ireland. Sadly, we were reminded of the worst manifestations of sectarianism with the recent death of Kevin McDaid who was beaten to death in a vicious attack by a mob in Coleraine. Our thoughts and prayers are with his widow, Evelyn, who was badly injured during the attack and the family of Damien Fleming who still lies critically injured in hospital. We can make a valuable contribution to the process through my Department's reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds. The Estimates provide for an allocation of €3 million to North-South and Anglo-Irish co-operation measures, subhead F1, the bulk of which will be disbursed through these two funds. Through the mechanisms of the reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds, the Department is well placed to assist groups engaged in this vital work and help to build the foundations of a truly shared society.

Looking back over the last year, one of the key diplomatic successes for Ireland was the agreement on the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The adoption of the convention by 107 states in Dublin in May 2008 was a landmark achievement for Irish diplomacy. We will continue our efforts to ensure the convention takes effect as soon as possible.

A top priority for me as Minister for Foreign Affairs and my Department is the role to be played by Ireland in the pursuit of international peace and security. Two regions of conflict which currently are the focus of a lot of concern are Sri Lanka and Burma. In Sri Lanka the final months of the conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have exacted a bloody toll. The cost in human life has been unacceptably high. It is essential that the Government of Sri Lanka begin a peace process with the Tamil people. However, the immediate priority must be the welfare of the internally displaced population, now estimated at approximately 400,000. I greatly appreciate the interest which members of the committee take in the situation in Sri Lanka.

The appalling situation in Burma is of grave concern to me and the Government, as it is to members of the committee. The wanton disregard of the regime of the views of its own people and those of the international community was demonstrated once again by the arrest on 14 May and subsequent trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. It is difficult to be optimistic about the future. We had discussions about the matter at yesterday's European Council meeting. There seems little chance that the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year will be free or fair. Nevertheless, I can assure Deputies that I personally and my Department, with the European Council, will continue to try to encourage positive change in Burma.

The international agenda we are facing this year is formidable. Ireland has an important role to play, with our European Union and United Nations partners, in the search for a peaceful and stable world order and the lasting resolution of conflict, not least in the Middle East. While I have made clear my concern at the negative trend of developments in the region since the end of the conflict in Gaza, there are also opportunities to make progress, not least thanks to the welcome engagement of President Obama. The President and his Administration are seeking to revive peace negotiations and putting valuable pressure on both sides, particularly the new Israeli Government, to honour road map obligations. The European Union has resolved to work closely with the United States and the other members of the international Quartet to achieve meaningful progress on such issues as settlements, Gaza and the need for Palestinian reconciliation. We must deliver clear messages to the Government of Israel. We must also make it clear that the European Union's relations with Israel will continue to be determined by progress towards realising the overall strategic priority of a comprehensive peace settlement based on the two-state solution.

We will need to continue to monitor the situation in Iran closely. Clearly, there are concerns about the conduct of the Iranian elections and the extent to which the principles of fairness and transparency were adhered to. These are concerns which must be addressed. The descent into violence yesterday is troubling and underlines the need for the Iranian authorities to respect the legitimate right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. More generally, we must continue to encourage Iran to engage more with the international community on such issues as its nuclear programme and human rights.

While the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, will deal in greater detail with Vote 29, I would like to make a few brief points. As members are aware, the economic situation and the absolute requirement to stabilise the public finances have had implications for the allocation of funds to Vote 29. ODA spending this year by the Department of Foreign Affairs under the banner of Irish Aid will be €571 million. When additional spending on ODA by other Departments is taken into account, total Government spending will be of the order of €696 million. To place the matter in context, the allocation for 2009, even after the reduction we have had to make, represents a 300% increase on our expenditure on ODA in the decade since 1999. On current projections, this level of funding will represent approximately 0.48% of estimated 2009 gross national product and should maintain Ireland's position as the sixth most generous donor internationally on aper capita basis. We recognise that the recent budgetary adjustment will make it more difficult to achieve the target of spending 0.7% of GNP on ODA by 2012. Nevertheless, we are continuing to work towards that target.

The Irish Aid programme remains one of the most effective in the world. Last month the OECD's development assistance committee described Ireland as "a champion in making aid more effective" and Irish Aid as "a strong cutting edge development programme". This welcome and positive endorsement of the Irish Aid programme should be a source of pride for the people.

I wish to make one final point on the aid programme. In the annual output statement the country strategy for Malawi is one of the planned outputs for this year. Detailed work on the strategy is ongoing. I record my Department's appreciation for the committee's report on Malawi which was published in March. It represents an important input into this work.

In the time available to me, it is not possible to address all of the issues that might be of interest to the members of the committee. I hope I have given the Chairman and members adequate information for their consideration of the Estimates. I will be happy to take questions and look forward to our discussion.

Just over one year has passed since I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development. I am privileged to have served in the Department of Foreign Affairs during a difficult and challenging year for us all. The last 12 months have clearly highlighted the impressive contribution Ireland continues to make in the fight against global hunger and poverty.

I pay tribute to the work of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in the development area. The Oireachtas has an essential role to play in scrutinising Government policy and ensuring it is accountable and transparent. I am grateful to the committee for the effectiveness with which it undertakes its work. I thank it for its consistently helpful and constructive advice and questioning throughout the year. Like the Minister, Deputy Martin, I particularly welcome the publication in recent weeks of the committee's detailed report on the aid programme in Malawi which was prepared following the important visit to that country made by members last November. When I spoke yesterday to the Irish ambassador to Malawi, Mr. Liam MacGabhann, he commented favourably on the high level of engagement and expertise exhibited by members during the visit. Like everyone working in Irish Aid, I am ready at all times to work closely with the committee as it examines and makes recommendations on the Government's aid programme and its priorities.

We meet today in the midst of a continuing global economic crisis which originated in the financial markets of the developed world. The effects of the crisis are disproportionately affecting the poorest communities in the developing world. We have an obligation to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable people in the least developed countries do not become the chief victims of the crisis. As a small and open economy, Ireland has been severely affected by the global banking crises and the ensuing international economic downturn. The change in Ireland's economic fortunes in the past 12 months has been marked by its severity and suddenness. In the face of rapidly deteriorating public finances, the Government had to act decisively. It had no choice other than to reduce the levels of current expenditure across all Departments. This had to be done to restore stability to the public finances and establish a solid platform for renewed economic growth in the future. The Government had to make the regrettable decision to reduce the budget for Ireland's official development assistance programme for 2009. I acknowledge the deep concern that has been provoked by this decision, especially among non-governmental organisations. However, it would be irresponsible to avoid the basic issue, that Ireland cannot make a sustainable, credible and effective contribution to fighting global poverty and hunger unless it has sustainable public finances at home.

The decision to reduce the official development assistance budget was taken solely in the context of the economic situation facing the country. When the economy has returned to a pattern of sustainable growth, the Government will resume the expansion of the people's aid programme which reflects their core values, including their commitment to supporting the world's poorest people. We are working to ensure the budgetary adjustments implemented in recent months will not affect the quality of our aid programme or its international reputation. Ireland's aid programme is notable for its clear focus on poverty reduction and hunger alleviation and its concentration on the least developed countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This strategic focus guides us as we renew and implement all areas of the programme and deliver on the commitment clearly given by the Government last September in response to the publication of the hunger task force's report. We are determined to meet the challenges set out in the report. As the committee is aware, I have made it clear that the fight against the global scandal of hunger will be a cornerstone of the entire aid programme this year and in the years ahead.

The Government has allocated €696 million in official development assistance for 2009, €571 million of which is administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs through Irish Aid. This is a significant allocation by any standards. As the Minister has pointed out, it is three times the amount spent on official development assistance by the Government just ten years ago. On current projections, this year's level of expenditure will represent approximately 0.48% of gross national product. In all likelihood, it will maintain Ireland's position as one of the world's most generous donors on aper capita basis. Last year we were sixth in the world and fifth in the European Union. In the face of the unprecedented and sudden economic shock that has affected the country, the figures I have mentioned represent a significant achievement by comparison with other countries.

There has been a great deal of public commentary about the proportionality or otherwise of the reductions in Ireland's official development assistance budget. We should not forget that the increase in our aid budget in recent years, in real and percentage terms, was out of all proportion to our economic growth. In fact, the rate of increase was over three times the rate of economic growth. The reductions must be considered in that context. In the past decade the Government ensured Ireland's contribution to official development assistance grew at a faster rate that the general economy. In 1999 total official development assistance was just over €230 million. Ireland has provided over €4 billion in overseas development assistance in the past six years. We moved from providing 0.3% of GNP in 2000 to an historic high of 0.58% in 2008 and are continuing to work towards our target of spending 0.7% in 2012 which I acknowledge will now be more difficult to achieve. I emphasise that we remain well ahead of most of our EU partners, including Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy where the decrease amounted to 57% last year, in making progress towards the overall EU target of spending 0.7% by 2015.

Next week I will attend the high level UN conference in New York on the impact of the financial crisis on developing countries. I have reviewed the preparations and prospects for the conference in consultation with my EU development Minister colleagues. When we met in Brussels last month, we agreed that the European Union would adhere to its commitments to the developing world. However, with gross national product falling throughout the world, aid budgets are under pressure everywhere. This is happening at precisely the time when financial and other development assistance is needed most by the poorest countries. It is clear that falling investment, remittances and demand for exports will slow growth in all developing countries and probably reverse it in the poorest. Poverty will rise in such countries, most of which are among our priority countries for long-term strategic assistance. The ability of national governments to respond to increased needs will weaken as the amount of revenue available for public services and other development expenditure declines. The poorest people will be the hardest hit as their incomes, assets and reserves are eroded and the vulnerability of their lives and livelihoods is further increased. The modest and fragile progress made towards achieving the millennium development goals in our programme countries is at risk. Therefore, it is essential that the Irish aid programme maintains a strong focus on the social sectors, concentrates resources in support of reducing vulnerability and hunger and supports social protection programmes that target the most vulnerable.

In implementing the adjustments to the aid programme in recent months the Government has ensured funding for Ireland's nine programme countries will assume the least severe burden, proportionately. In this difficult international environment it is vital that we redouble our efforts to ensure every euro and dollar spent on aid is spent effectively and that we can demonstrate tangible and sustainable results to the public. This is an area in which Ireland is taking a strong lead internationally. I represented the Government in Accra last September at the third high level forum on aid effectiveness which was hosted by the Government of Ghana. While the extent of the global economic downturn was not evident at that stage, agreement was reached on a range of significant steps that would help us to meet the heightened challenges we faced. Developed and developing countries agreed in Accra to reform significantly the way aid was given and spent. Under what is now termed the Accra agenda for action, developing countries are committed to taking control of their own futures; donors are committed to co-ordinating more effectively and both are pledged to account more clearly and effectively to each other and their citizens. I fully support the implementation of the agenda for action, although it will not be easy. It will require a strong focus on ensuring our aid achieves real and sustainable results. It will mean we will always examine using country systems as the first option when delivering aid.

We have agreed to make aid more predictable and transparent, allowing our partners to plan and implement their development strategies more effectively. If we must adjust budgets in the face of economic pressure, we must do so in consultation with our partners in the developing world. We will need to work more effectively together with other donors to support national development plans in our programme countries. Our programmes will need to focus more on the key areas where we can add value and we will need to support programmes that improve accountability and transparency of expenditure.

None of this will be achieved overnight or easily. It is an ambitious agenda that will require all partners in development assistance to examine and often overcome old habits. As Government and political representatives focused on the delivery of the official aid programme, we must accept this challenge if we are to ensure international development efforts are effective and rendered no longer necessary in the long term. There are also implications for the non-governmental sector as NGOs examine how best they can avoid duplication, make their aid more effective and co-operate as partners with each other, Government, civil society and governments in the developing world.

I have focused clearly on the challenges facing the developing world and Government as we work to meet our commitments at home and abroad. In this context, I refer to the strong endorsement of Ireland's aid programme recently delivered by the OECD development assistance committee. I am grateful for the contribution made by the Committee on Foreign Affairs to the peer review of the programme which the OECD carried out and reported on last month.

The aim of the development assistance committee, representing the main international aid donors, is to ensure international aid is effective, efficient and meets the highest standards of best practice. It challenges its membership to provide aid which meets key criteria and will be lasting and sustainable. Development assistance committee peer reviews are of critical importance to the reputation of an aid programme providing an authoritative assessment of its quality and effectiveness. The report published last month on progress made by Ireland's aid programme since the previous review in 2003 provides a very positive assessment of the direction and effectiveness of the programme. It praises Ireland for our "remarkable" and "constant" focus on the least developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa and describes Ireland as "champions" in making aid more effective. It also characterises the aid programme as "cutting edge" and welcomes the leading support we have provided in the fight against HIV and AIDS, as well as Ireland's "intellectual leadership" in promoting gender equality.

These are the views of an independent, objective and critical international organisation from which we should draw pride. My colleagues and I will work to ensure these high standards are maintained and our aid programme remains one of the best in the world, reflecting our core commitments to supporting the poorest of the poor.

Volumes and figures alone do not make for a quality, cutting edge aid programme, nor do agendas for action or lofty words in an international forum. Despite the recent reduction in the volume of overseas development aid, the Irish Aid programme is being resourced, at significant levels, by Irish people through their taxes. Our approach to development reflects the commitment of Irish people to international justice and fairness. It reflects and mirrors our hopes and ideals. This is what drives and motivates the Irish Aid programme. The core of our work will be supporting the poorest and most vulnerable, helping them to achieve a better future. Above all, we are determined that once the economy has returned to a pattern of sustainable growth, the expansion of our aid programme will be resumed. I would welcome members' views and will be pleased to take questions.

We will now discuss Vote 28 — Foreign Affairs, Vote 29 — International Co-operation and the annual output statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the Chairman will resolve my confusion. The allocation of time we agreed was that the Minister's 15 minute opening statement on Vote 28 would be followed by opening statements of ten minutes by the Fine Gael Party and Labour Party spokesperson, respectively, and the same arrangement would apply on Vote 29, with the opening statement of the Minister of State to be followed by those of the party spokespersons. I have no difficulty with the arrangements.

I propose that each speaker should have 15 minutes speaking time. Is that agreed?

With respect, I would like to finish my point. There is an attractive logic in having the Minister speak first and, thereafter, the Minister of State. From a personal perspective, I require the time agreed if I am to address the issues which arise in Votes 28 and 29.

The Deputy's proposal is accepted.

I was rather worried because under current arrangements we have opening statements followed by a discussion of specific aspects of the programme under each Vote. Vote 28 covers the general administration of the Department while Vote 29 deals with the internal structure of the aid budget. I am trying to be of assistance.

We will have a ten minute statement from Deputy Timmins on Vote 28 and the annual output statement, after which Deputy Higgins may also make a ten minute statement. That is in order and if questions arise which are more appropriate to the Minister of State, Deputy Power, he may answer them.

Although I remain a little confused, I am willing to share time with Deputy Deasy, even if this does not correspond with the agreed timetable.

I accept Deputy Timmins's proposal but I do not want to be told I am not entitled to speak for 20 minutes.

There is no question of that. The Deputy may speak for 20 minutes.

I will deal with the various subheads separately, beginning with Vote 28. While the reduction in Vote 28 is significant, relative to Vote 29 and the Votes of other Departments, it is relatively small. I do not like to paraphrase the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, in arguing that significant sums of money are small.

I am struck by the fact that almost 50% of the Vote is allocated to subhead A, pay and administration. In recent years, the Fine Gael Party has stressed the need to reduce the pay and administration costs of running Departments. I note savings have been made in this relatively small budget in 2009. This begs the question as to whether the allocation would have been unnecessarily increased if we were not required to tighten our belts due to the downturn.

The efficiency of the Department has not been compromised. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on the role of the consulate general in Cardiff and what disadvantages will emerge as a result of its closure. While the consulate may have fulfilled a good purpose, I am not sure that is the case.

In recent months, the Minister has been at pains to stress that the economic downturn would result in an enhanced role for embassies in the areas of assisting trade and investment. He referred to co-operation between embassies and IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. The allocation for trade and investment activities has increased by only 1%. While I appreciate that these are lean times, perhaps funding for such activities should be further increased. If our export figures are to improve, we must strengthen marketing activities. In this connection, I repeatedly cite the example of Bord Bia, an agency outside the remit of the Department. To the best of my knowledge, only one member of its staff is based in the United States, which is crazy. The Departments of Foreign Affairs, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must work together under one roof to sell Irish produce. Such a move would reduce pay and administration costs, create economies of scale and send out a more coherent message.

The Minister referred to efforts made by embassy staff and expenditure on the media in terms of opinion formation. He indicated that we took some severe hits earlier in the year. Perhaps he would elaborate on that issue. If we did take severe hits, they were not undeserved. The Minister can shake his head but, unfortunately, the Government is responsible for much that happened. Let us call a spade a spade. We have had the failure to pass the Lisbon treaty, a banking crisis and a crisis in the public finances. The latter two were created by the Government. Could the Minister elaborate on how our image abroad has improved? Our credit rating has been downgraded. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. While we all want things to improve, it is important to acknowledge where there have been failures in the past.

One of the most active areas in the Department is the consular services section. I commend the Department on its work in this regard. Consular services are most facilitating to families who have experienced distressful situations, including bereavements. We are familiar with the work they do and we appreciate them. The Minister indicated that passport offices have a high level of customer demand. What is the basis of the increased level of demand? I would not have thought there would be an increase. Is the reason due to holiday travel, people emigrating, people losing their passports or foreign nationals accessing the service?

On Europe, the Minister is allocating initially €4 million and he hopes to get an additional €1.2 million. When a referendum fails we all look for scapegoats, but I do not expect anyone in this room knows how that money was spent. Perhaps the figures on how the Referendum Commission spent its money are available and it is negligent of me not to have seen them. My view is that the money was not spent effectively. I do not want to look for a scapegoat. I am not doing that. I am conscious of the fact that the Referendum Commission is an independent body but some kind of guidelines should be issued. I assume the bulk of the probable allocation of €5.2 million will go to the Referendum Commission.

I take on board what the Deputy is saying. I did not articulate what was outlined in the script. A total of €4 million has been allocated and a bit more might be required.

I see that the Minister is hoping to get €1.2 million from some other source.

I might not go the full distance in that regard, but I will take on board what the Deputy is saying. I am flexible.

The most effective tool in the previous referendum was the series of "Prime Time" programmes. They were much more effective than the subliminal advertisements that were run by the Referendum Commission which probably cost an arm and a leg to produce. The matter must be examined.

I accept the Minister has been vociferous at the Council of Ministers. He mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi. She is in a dreadful situation. The same applies to what is happening in Tehran currently and the conduct of the election there. Ireland and Europe have called for more electoral transparency. How effective a role does this country and Europe play, other than to pass motions and make statements? Are we merely going through the optics? The same applies to Sri Lanka and Burma. It is not the case that I lack concern for those areas but it is tiresome to call continually for something yet not be in a position to do anything. Can we do anything? Do trade sanctions have merit or are they counter-productive? I would like to get the Minister's view on the matter.

The Minister referred to Palestine. One part of me would like to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that he recognises there should be a Palestinian state, but when one reads the restrictions envisaged, it appears to be nothing more than a minuscule attempt to appease the new American President.

It is a significant movement backwards.

Mr. Netanyahu's statement that he will not consider restricting settlements is outrageous. I encourage the Minister to use every avenue that is open to him to express the dissatisfaction of Fine Gael members at any rate at what is happening in Israel. We are inclined to place the emphasis on the difficulties in Gaza, which is well deserved, but what is happening in the West Bank is outrageous. There is not just an incremental increase in settlements for purely economic reasons. What is happening is the strategic strangulation of the Palestinian community. There is no defence for what is taking place currently. The wall should come down. Even the line of construction of the wall does not have any other purpose than to cut off Palestinian communities. Some movement is required by the Israelis. Advocating a policy is simply not good enough. Something must be done about it.

The peace monument was one of the first items to get the chop. I could never quite understand it. I am not sure where it was to be located. Dundalk was one suggestion a year or two ago but perhaps the Minister has plans to move it to Cork. The concept of a peace monument is a good idea. I regret that it has been knocked but moving it to the previous Minister's home county might not have been the most magnanimous gesture. The Minister outlined that he anticipates further cuts. Could he give an indication of where they might be?

The allocation for North-South bodies is being reduced from €7 million to €3 million. Prior to the recent murders in Northern Ireland one would have been inclined to say that the funding had worked out well. It is important to keep all North-South initiatives well financed because we do not want a return to the past.

Could the Minister elaborate on the funding spent on value for money reviews? Did we learn anything from them?

I wish to make one point. I will address the programme cuts later after Deputy Higgins has spoken.

The Minister indicated that the greater part of the cuts was borne on the administration side in Vote 28. What really struck me on going through the documents was that the bilateral assistance budget was reduced by 24.2%, the multilateral assistance in Vote 29 was reduced by 41.7% while there was, in effect, an increase, albeit small, in administration. The updated administration subhead shows an increase of 0.4%. When the Minister was cutting the budget massively in very sensitive areas, did he consider the administrative overheads involved? Salaries and wages increased to €18.9 million from €18.43 million. Travel and subsistence increased, as did incidental expenses and office premises expenses. It was pointed out initially that the administrative budget accounts for 6% of the total Vote allocation and that this is low by international standards. I am not so sure about that. It was difficult to find data on aid budgets in other countries. However, I have found some figures that indicate the percentage is not as low as one might think. Supposedly, the proportion of Italy's administrative budget allocated to what it calls official development financing is approximately 1%. In Norway the figure is approximately 1%; in Japan, 2%; in Australia, 2%; the United Kingdom, 5%, and Finland,4%. Although the Irish budget has been cut massively, why are we seeing an increase under the administrative subhead?

I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words, first, on Vote 28. I find this process unsatisfactory, which is no reflection on the Minister, the Minister of State or committee members. I am simply suggesting that, in discussing aspects of foreign policy, the committee is hampered in the topics it can discuss. In addition, at Question Time the number of questions and the amount of time allowed for any given question are limited. This is our one opportunity to address some global foreign affairs issues. In that regard, I wish the newly-appointed Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs every success. I am very grateful for the co-operation I have received over many years from the Department.

With regard to the Minister's initial statement, I cannot be as optimistic. It is a source of great disappointment that UN reform does not figure at all, perhaps because the reform process is as dead as a doornail. Nothing is happening with regard to reform of the multilateral institutions.

I am encouraged to think about this issue for another reason. I recall the virulence with which the Department of Finance and the now discredited former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, spoke against the Tobin tax, yet those of us who advanced it — a minuscule imposition that could have raised considerable revenue that could have been recycled to such great benefit — were told it was an impossibility. This must be borne in mind, given that we are considering the necessary reconstruction of the international global financial order. Lest anyone believes I make up these points, one should note the April recommendation of the commission of experts of the President of the UN General Assembly of the United Nations on reconstituting the international financial global order with new instruments with a view to achieving better regulation. That is very important, as we will note in respect of Vote 29.

One of the aspects of this Vote we have not discussed, apart from aid, is the fact that we are enforcing deregulated products through economic partnership agreements at the very same time as we are discussing at the United Nations the economic collapse and the disaster, poverty and unemployment visited upon the world by those who have been in favour of deregulation.

I agree with the presentation on the point that it is possible to make an intellectual contribution that is separate from the financial one. I have no difficulty with this because it is true. I express publicly, because I have no reason not to, deep dissatisfaction with the intellectual content, particularly on foreign policy and development, in a number of the academic institutions. By this I mean we have not had an adequate discussion on alternative economic models. Are we still talking about linear paths to growth, unregulated markets and access for dubious insurance products and services into Africa, Asia and Latin America? There is a need for people to step up to the plate intellectually in our academic institutions.

On issues concerning Africa and Latin America which we will discuss when we come to Vote 29, there are serious academics in this country, some of whom are participating in research projects funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, advancing old clapped-out ideas. For example, I refer to the de Soto model on land tenure which would be disastrous in addressing the land tenure issues of migrants or African villages. I am simply saying this to be provocative regarding the need for good thinking on alternative models.

My point — I will speak plainly because that is what I am elected to do — is that the game is up in regard to the unregulated market economy. It is not the weather; there was nothing natural or inevitable about any of this, yet it was presented as such. I am 68 years old and was an academic for 18 years and worked in institutions where it was presented that there was a single path to development. The ability to choose one's own path to development is an issue of human, cultural, economic and social rights. The game is up, but the penny may not drop in Commissioner McCreevy's head for a long time, if that is possible at all. There is an intellectual weakness in the discourse.

Let me refer to some of the general points not mentioned by the Minister, Deputy Martin, in introducing Vote 28. I agree with him on many points such as on Gaza. There is no point in pussyfooting since we saw an example of collective punishment. People can duck and dive on the issue but that is what occurred. It is a siege. The Minister is optimistic in his aspiration for a return to the Quartet initiative for peace in the Middle East whereas I see no basis for optimism at all in this regard. Mr. Saeb Erekat who represents Mr. Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that, as far as he was concerned, the initiative was as dead as a doornail and that the statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu was a disaster. He said there was nothing to talk about at any level and, of course, he is correct because missing from the discourse is the fact that there will effectively be pressure from the European Union to find a solution within the realms of international law. The settlements are illegal and their extension is an outrage. They have been judged by international courts of justice as being largely in Palestinian territory. It is nonsense to suggest everything is going well. Mr. Jimmy Carter is talking to serious people in Hamas and it is perfectly clear a solution will involve his doing so. We need to get real about all this.

The Minister and I agree on Sri Lanka, but I put my case differently. I raised what had taken place with the Minister at Question Time and stated that, in the case of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, a new trend had entered the discourse in respect of diplomacy. People no longer spoke about containing or dealing with the terrorist threat and the language used explicitly in all the statements from a number of governments referred to the elimination of terrorists and the achievement of the military elimination of what was perceived as a threat. This is of considerable significance internationally. I do not have the time to discuss in detail all the topics that arise in respect of Vote 28. Globally, the challenge in foreign policy is to develop new models of economy and security. In this regard, one should remember the previous Secretary General of the United Nations suggested models could be based only on the elimination of poverty, yet there is a retreat by the international community from the allocations that would lead to the achievement of the millennium development goals.

There is an opportunity for us all to agree that the European Union could be an economic space of social security and sustainability. Clearly, the international foreign policy challenges concern peace but also climate change. It is possible, for example, to have a region in which one has new models of social security, respect for work, etc., in which competitiveness and labour market flexibility are not used as instruments to increase poverty and drive people towards degradation. The issue of the rule of law and settlements affects more than just an adequate response on the Middle East.

I have not seen any significant development on institutional reform. When the Bretton Woods institutions were founded, there was a suggestion on how to handle the pernicious effects of hot money. We are far from that now.

Concerning Vote 29, there is no point in dodging around the issue that €195 million has been taken out of the aid budget. The cut is disproportionate to other cuts in the Department of Foreign Affairs and across other Departments. Deputy Deasy is correct that it is actually in the order of 22%, a stark contrast to the level of cuts in other departmental budgets.

The Minister referred to damage done to Ireland's reputation. That damage was done by people involved in a form of toxicity, different from that of the US, which claims debt is good, speculation is even better and richness is about individualism. Ireland's reputation is also damaged by the retreat from commitments given at some solemn assemblies, such as the UN, and by people telling Pope Benedict he need not worry. I am not worried about Pope Benedict; I am worried about the damage done to our international reputation by retreating from commitments made to our development aid budget.

Ireland's reputation abroad was immensely enhanced by the aid programme which was evaluated positively by various groups. However, there is a need for consistency in aid on the one hand and trade policy and attitude to debt on the other. A recent meeting of the UN General Assembly discussed this in light of global implications in foreign policy. I referred to this earlier because I am tired of hearing this is a matter for the Department of Finance. That Department has a deadly, inherited, intellectual role in refusing to back the progressive reform of the board of the World Bank and the IMF. We do not need that same old lame excuse again.

The 0.7% target always had an exit in it. As the economy shrank, the gross sum reduced. That should have been enough had the Government wanted to be serious about international development. The Government did not accept this, however, and introduced even more cuts. This has made the position of the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, for whom I have much respect, impossible as he ends up defending the indefensible.

The committee has a responsibility to examine the micro-impact of these cutbacks. One would like to say that no genuine case of disaster relief will be refused. However, we cannot because humanitarian relief funding is being cut back already, even if indirectly, through the allocations to non-governmental organisations. Other areas in the development programme such as micro credit and gender equality will also be affected. We need a commitment from the Minister that we will not just return to fulfilling our commitment in the better times and that there will be a monitoring exercise to ensure it comes about.

We would not be where we are with the Lisbon treaty if some of the major parties had shown a little more enthusiasm in the referendum campaign. That is, however, history. The Minister referred to the guarantees concerning the composition of the European Commission, corporation tax, neutrality, abortion and workers' rights. On the latter, he stated EU leaders agreed the high importance the EU attaches to issues such as workers' rights would be confirmed. It would be enormously helpful in any further consultation with the people if the Government were to commit itself to specific domestic legislation, as requested by the social partners, to deal with the issues raised by the Laval and other employment cases in the European Court of Justice.

I am not worried when it is claimed Ireland's influence in foreign affairs is only a moral one. The Government took a bad decision on the participation of the Burmese military at an ASEAN conference several years ago. I accept people make mistakes; there is no point in suggesting it was anything else. The military regime in Burma never intended to make a transition to democracy, as influenced by their neighbours. I will, however, give credit to the Minister for his work in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi.

I believe the Minister has great difficulty in justifying what emerges on Israel and the Euro-Mediterranean agreement from the General Affairs and External Relations Council. It is often the case of the Minister claiming he fought very hard but the statement could not reflect the Irish view. It is outrageous we would even consider deepening the relationship with Israel through any expansion of Euro-Med while it is in clear breach of the agreement's clauses on human rights. I am not interested in hearing claims that compliance with human rights is monitored. There should be a specific period, say six months, to examine and report on human rights compliance. If the report makes a finding which is not in favour, the agreement should be cancelled. There must be a form of sanctions which would be an alternative to boycotts which can be very general in their effect.

It is also indefensible for the Israeli Prime Minister to claim that thickening — that was the word he used — settlements in the West Bank is not the same as expropriating new land. Similarly, it was believed all Palestinians could be moved out of Ma'ale Admim in east Jerusalem without further deepening the Palestinian conflict. However, it is doing just that. We need to be much more robust in stating that.

Great opportunities can be presented to us in the current international economic conditions if we have the courage to recognise what has failed. The people, however, who are paying the most are those indigenous peoples in areas affected by desertification and the victims of conflict, the internally displaced. Their numbers across so many different parts of the world from Sri Lanka to Africa to Asia are huge. They are also the most affected with the collapse of international markets, climate change, the transport of humanitarian assistance and so forth. It is necessary when we have an opportunity to look at the detail of Votes 28 and 29 to examine the dark side as well as what we have been able to save as slivers of optimism out of a truly dreadful time.

Before calling the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, are there any questions on the annual output statement for 2009?

I thank the members for their remarks. At the outset, Deputy Timmins raised a number of issues. He mentioned the issue about staff and pay and seemed to suggest that there is room for more cuts in this regard. It is down 11% on Vote 28 and in essence this is a personnel driven Department, by definition, in terms of the overseas missions. In terms of the Department's output, that is delivered by people. As someone who has been in a number of Departments I am of the view that it is an efficient Department. In particular, when one goes overseas and looks at our strength on the ground, one is often struck by the lean and efficient nature of the operation, the degree to which people are prepared to work very long hours in many instances and do not get sufficient credit or acknowledgement for that. We must avoid a stereotypical approach to the public service, sloganising and branding, which can be inaccurate and morale sapping.

I shall call it, when I want to call it. I have been overseas, in the consulates, even negotiating these Lisbon agreements. People work from 7 a.m. until midnight in some instances because they want to do a good job for Ireland. That said, we will take a hit this year. Fewer people will be working at the end of 2009 than in 2008 and the approach now is that more has to be achieved with less. Therefore, we are looking at systems and approaches to try to maintain the levels of service we provide, with fewer human resources both within the Department's headquarters and indeed, abroad. I am looking at the complete alignment of our embassies and consulates overseas to see whether we can tailor them more closely towards strategic objectives. We shall continue to do that in the coming year.

The Welsh consulate was an outcome of the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of the east-west dimension. We believe we can cover the work from the London embassy. On the other hand, we believe that in the Gulf, and particularly the UAE, an Irish presence was required from an economic perspective. Hence we are opening an embassy in Abu Dhabi and that is the type of thing we shall be looking at critically. The Deputy may recall that on St. Patrick's Day the Taoiseach launched the US strategic review dealing with the relationship between Ireland and the US. Again we looked at increasing our strength in the US, notwithstanding the fact that we are in a climate of difficulty and constraint. We are also looking at new models in that regard and it does not have to be the same model everywhere.

Deputy Timmins asked about the Ireland House model. I believe we now have 16 Ireland Houses, embracing the enterprise side on the one campus. In other locations, of course, they work very closely together, particularly in Asia where the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the embassies work synergistically in the promotion of Ireland Inc., along with Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia where these are located. Recently I launched an initiative where we are developing meetings for different parts of the world between my Department, the State agencies and the private sector, to see how best Ireland Inc. can use our embassies and consulates overseas in terms of advancing Irish commerce and trade. For example, we had one recently on South America, where I asked people who had an interest on the ground there, with the embassies and the State agencies, to come to a forum to explore how we could be of greater assistance and identify the strategic issues we should address. The next session is a thematic one on science and technology, research and development and again we are posing the question to interested agencies and parties as well as individuals and the third level sector as to how the Department of Foreign Affairs, through its embassies and consulates, may be more effective in harnessing research and development for Ireland and promoting that message of Ireland Inc. We have other plans for similar consultations on a regular basis.

In terms of the messaging the Deputy asked me about, as regards the severe hits we have taken, I do not accept that the banking crisis was the cause. I learned one thing in life when I was studying history, namely, there is no single cause for anything. Everything is multi-factorial. A number of factors are responsible for every event in the world, and each government in its time plays many parts.

Deputy Higgins spoke about the conventional economic models that have led to a world collapse in terms of the financial and banking systems and the unregulated products emerging in that world, the classic one being sub-prime lending, but this has happened before in the history of mankind. One only has to read J. K. Galbraith's account of the 1929 crash to see that human nature plays a very significant role in terms of bubbles and their ultimate collapse. I actually would agree——

Political decisions have to do with deregulation, of course.

I would agree with Deputy Higgins that people need to step up to the plate in terms of looking at new models or questioning existing models. There have been some seismic events in post-war Europe which have challenged conventions particularly in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which dramatically transformed the world as it was known. We are witnessing similar events in financial and global terms which will also give rise to political fall-out over time, across Europe in particular and across the world. It is already having some impact in some European countries. Such events are of a generational nature. I would argue that these are global events in economic terms that are out of the ordinary and on a par with 1929 and the early 1930s. It remains to be seen how these events pan out and evolve. However, I accept that Deputy Higgins has a point as regards the unanimity around economic models in recent times which has been disconcerting — and there has been a dearth of original radical thought, which is something I would urge. Again, we look to the academic and intellectual community to pose the questions and come up with new responses, and I am very much open to that.

Deputy Timmins should perhaps be aware that the St. Patrick's Day events this year were very much focused on promoting the Irish message, using that brand, so to speak, which cannot be bought. If, starting from a greenfield position, one were to cost an exercise that would have Ireland high profiled in every major city in the world, the figure would be astronomical. This year we effectively targeted and prioritised St. Patrick's week to profile Ireland and emphasise its particularly attractive nature for inward investment, while highlighting the continued success of an exciting cohort of indigenous companies which continue to penetrate markets overseas. We had an extraordinary trade mission to New York and the United States during St. Patrick's week. Despite all the gloom and doom, many companies travelled and many of them continue to penetrate the markets there, notwithstanding the drop in demand and the difficulties. Admittedly, some of our bad publicity was deserved, in terms of the collapsing banking system, but there are agendas everywhere and Ireland must don the jersey and be mindful of the fact that others may wish to profile us negatively to advance their own interests. It is important that we do not have our eyes closed in that regard and that we adjust the balance sheet in a professional and informed manner and encourage a more balanced approach in terms of the way Ireland is perceived abroad. That is what we are about and I set up a special unit in the Department to deal with these issues regularly. The Minister for Finance has had very successful trips overseas, particularly to London on St. Patrick's week and subsequently with the NTMA in Germany and in other European states. He was very appreciative of the work of our embassies in those countries. Irrespective of who is in power, it is important that we put our best foot forward for Ireland.

Last year €5 million was allocated to the Referendum Commission and €800,000 to the Department for information purposes. On this occasion, we are looking at about €600,000 for the Department and about €4.2 million for the Referendum Commission, so we are looking at somewhere around €5 million. We looked at the research last year, and without being critical, it did not suggest that the campaign had an impact. I stress the independence of the commission and it is important that we continue to respect that. I do not want to become involved in that, or interfere with the work of an independent commission. On the other hand, when the Referendum Commission is established, it may be worthwhile for its members to look at the research carried out by Millward Brown on the impact of the campaign on public opinion.

Since the Gaza conflict, it is interesting to see that a number of member states are coming closer to the position on the association agreement that we adopted nine months ago, which was to take a stronger line in the commitment to a two-state solution. I stated last week that we agreed with President Obama when he said that the trajectory was profoundly negative in the Middle East. On the other hand, we feel that the US Administration has prioritised this from day one, something that we in Europe wanted. In many ways, the tragedy is that other circumstances have become far more negative at a time when a US Administration really wants to deal with this. I agree with the Deputy that Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement is not one that we would welcome. In the context of where the Likud Party is coming from, it represents some movement. However, in many respects it set back the process significantly. There are far too many qualifications in the statement, and I agree with the Deputy's comments on settlements and on Jerusalem. The Prime Minister's statement does not create the atmosphere for a genuinely ground breaking initiative, which is what is required. We are willing to see if movement can be made towards initiating talks on a settlement. When we met Mr. Javier Solana, he was very anxious that space would be provided to see if progress could be made. There have been many discussions going on and, ultimately, we want negotiations to start so that we can reach a meaningful settlement.

Europe is as effective as it can be on Burma. At the Council meeting yesterday, Ireland was strongly supportive of the UK initiative to bring in more targeted sanctions.

I have already outlined the position on the peace monument. The last major value for money review was in 2007 on the emigrant support programme and was conducted by Goodbody economic consultants. We do not have any plan this year, but we have a nominal amount for any programme that may take place towards the end of the year. Deputy Power will deal with the major work that was done on the aid programme, which ties into Deputy Deasy's questions on staffing. The story of Irish Aid has been the opposite to what has been portrayed by Deputy Deasy. All of the reports suggest that it has been run as a very lean machine, but I will let Deputy Power go into the detail.

To recover the ground to make the Minister of State's position tenable will require a Cabinet decision.

I am talking about the specifics of the staffing issue to which Deputy Deasy referred in his opening comments.

I agree with Deputy Higgins that progress on UN reform is disappointing. It is no fault of Ireland. Our permanent representative has co-chaired a working group to develop a more coherent and effective UN. The US engagement with the UN may kick start a better era, but the UN reform programme has been disappointing to date.

It is the 30th anniversary of the publication on UN reform by Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart, and they were much farther on 30 years ago.

While we are on historical matters, I would like to say that I am taken by the comments on the Lisbon treaty. In "Exiles", a play written by James Joyce in 1918, he stated that "if Ireland is to become a new Ireland, she must first become European". That is the sentiment of our efforts to put the treaty before the people again.

In quoting James Joyce and Galbraith, one would swear the Minister was looking for a job. It is very impressive.

The Deputy should hang around this committee more often. From the outset, we wanted to understand genuinely the underlying reasons people voted "Yes" and "No". We commissioned comprehensive research into that and we established a committee in the Oireachtas, which contained people who were both in favour and opposed to the Lisbon treaty. The entire effort was to achieve a genuine consensus and to put beyond doubt the issues that surfaced during the campaign. These issues related to ethical questions, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and its impact on Ireland's neutrality, as well as issues to do with taxation. I believe the guarantees that have been negotiated represent a very comprehensive addressing of the concerns that surfaced during the campaign, as does the solemn declaration on workers' rights and social policy.

We have made it clear that nothing in the treaty affects the competency of member states on direct taxation. In no way does the Lisbon treaty or the charter affect Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. There is no conscription provided for in the treaty. It does not determine the volume of spending that Ireland would provide on its own army or navy. We remain in control of our tax rates. Ireland will also keep a Commissioner, while we also retain control over sensitive ethical questions such as abortion.

There were suggestions in the last campaign that somehow the Lisbon treaty would mean wholesale privatisation of the health and education services. That is an untenable assertion. The solemn declaration makes clear it is the responsibility of member states to provide health and education services.

Will the Minister comment on the issues raised by the European Court of Justice?

Is the Deputy referring to the Laval case?

The Laval case could not arise in Ireland because we have a statutory provision for a minimum wage. I understand Deputies Costello and Dooley recently travelled to Sweden as part of a delegation from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs where they met trade union officials. I do not wish to steal their thunder on this issue as I understand the committee is to produce a report arising from those consultations. The Swedish trade unions are strongly in favour of the passage of the Lisbon treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, recognising that the latter represents a significant advance on workers' rights in terms of collective bargaining, strike action, equal pay, part-time workers and so on.

It is amazing that anyone from a trade union background could be opposed to the charter. That is difficult to comprehend. The charter represents a significant advance on anything within European treaties to date. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, worked closely with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in discussing these matters. The unions were very concerned that Britain's decision to opt out of the charter might encourage Ireland to do the same. Instead, we opted in, in line with our own model of social partnership. One of the more disappointing aspects of the last referendum campaign was that this was presented in a negative light.

I accept Deputy Higgins's point on domestic legislation. There is ongoing engagement with the social partners on the Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008, the employment agency regulation Bill and other areas of domestic legislation.

The Minister referred to the closure of the consulate in Cardiff and the establishment of a consulate in the United Arab Emirates. He also indicated that a unit has been set up within the Department to promote Ireland abroad. What are the criteria in terms of decisions as to whether particular consulates or embassies should remain open? What is the basic threshold in regard to their role in business development in various locations throughout the world? Have those criteria changed?

There is a range of criteria, including political, cultural and economic issues. The economic criteria have a stronger emphasis in certain parts of the world, especially Asia, the Gulf states, the United States and Europe.

Yes. However, the Minister indicated the focus has changed and that he is trying to implement that within the Department. It seems there is an urgency that embassies move beyond the cultural and other activities in which they have traditionally engaged. Specifically, there is an impetus for every embassy to promote Ireland from a business perspective.

Yes. Since I came into the Department, I have emphasised and prioritised the importance of the economic dimension to the work of embassies and consulates, particularly in respect of our presence in key markets.

How is the Minister doing that? I am curious about this issue, having had some experience working with embassies. Is the Department seeking to appoint more business-oriented people to these roles? Is there a requirement that all such appointees have a specific qualification or expertise in business?

No particular qualification is specified. Rather, what is required are adaptable and flexible people. For example, I have generally found general degree graduates to be very capable. Some of the major figures in the business world have a strong background in the humanities. It is important not to have tunnel vision in this regard. People will respond to the mandate they are given for their various missions. I have noticed over the years that our embassy staff are very aware of what is happening in the countries in which they are located. In Asia, for instance, they are very switched on to the economic transformation taking place in that region and the importance for us of capitalising on the opportunities available for Irish companies through the endeavours of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.

Is it still the Government position that we will seek to achieve the United Nations target for overseas aid by 2012?

Yes. There has been no change in the Government's position in that regard.

Will any overseas aid-specific projects be considered outside of the allocation for this year? For example, I referred earlier to disaster expenditure where relatively small sums can have a great impact on saving lives and so on. There is a need for an audit so that if we return to better times, we can see the consequences and effects of development expenditure and cuts. Will such an auditing process be undertaken and will it be made available to the committee so that this time next year, we will be able to examine the outturn and, if necessary, make additional provision?

I will make two points in response to the Deputy. I neglected earlier to refer to the issue of Ireland's international reputation in this regard. A key pointer is that we remain the sixth largest overseas aid contributorper capita. The OECD development assistance committee assessment was very positive about Ireland, notwithstanding what I acknowledge are very significant cuts. Equally, a return to economic and fiscal sustainability is the best way forward in terms of ensuring we can meet our objectives in regard to overseas development aid.

I have made the point that the meritorious approach should not merely be a consequence of fiscal stability. It is good in its own right.

Of course, it is good in its own right. However, we are conscious that every single expenditure reduction we have made thus far has been opposed despite the overarching view of the Opposition that it is necessary to impose fiscal discipline. The Government has to square the circle but the Opposition enjoys the luxury of having no such responsibility.

That is incorrect. We are all agreed on the importance of restoring the economy and achieving fiscal stability over a period. We differ on how that is best achieved.

I asked the Minister about the administrative budget under Vote 29.

I have a meeting at 7 p.m. with Deputy Deasy's party leader. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, will step in for me. Can I take it that Vote 28 is dealt with?

I am happy to agree to that.

I will deal with Vote 29 in the time remaining. In terms of administration, the reality is that our costs are low relative to international standards. In regard to international comparisons, I suggest with respect that some of the Deputy's information is incorrect. The development assistance committee's review suggests the OECD average is 8% to 12%. By contrast, our average in recent years has been only 4%. It has increased to 6% this year because the overall budget is reduced. However, this remains a very low percentage.

However, there is an important distinction to be made between bilateral and multilateral. The bilateral average I was given was 7%, which is higher even than the 6% we are dealing with now. The multilateral figure, that is, for all aid, would be up to 12%. Consequently, a higher administrative burden is shared by multilaterals. I will provide the reference for the Minister of State. Bill Easterly is professor of economics in New York University and is co-director of its development research institute, and he makes it very clear that such data are hard to come by. In general, however, I am unsure that when such a percentage of the budget is cut, to the tune of 41% and 24% in multilateral and bilateral aid, respectively, at the same time administrative overheads increase——

I will answer the Deputy's question if I have the opportunity to so do.

The Minister of State should go ahead.

I would be delighted to read that article and the Deputy should forward it to me. However, the pre-eminent adjudicating body in respect of all matters concerning aid and aid effectiveness is the OECD's development assistance committee. It is the body to which all donor countries hold themselves up to be adjudicated. In the past nine months, that body has gone through our aid programme from top to bottom with particular reference to administration. The committee, which is completely independent and comprised of our peers, concluded by suggesting that relative to other countries, our administration budget is very low.

However, the Deputy raised a specific point on the reason it has increased in the context of a decrease in spending. It is a fair point to make and the Deputy identified in particular the rise in incidental expenses from €2.29 million to €3.2 million. This constitutes a substantial increase, which is directly attributable to increased expenditure on the audit side. This was introduced on foot of a recommendation by an external audit commission and by the Deputy's party, which recommended that the Department's audit function be strengthened. That is only so because even though there has been a decrease in funding this year, there have been massive increases in recent years, which require additional audit funding.

On the other side, the Deputy also mentioned the increase in office premises expenditure from €3.58 million to €3.92 million. This is directly due to an increase in expenditure in the embassy in Ethiopia, which was undertaken on security grounds. On the other hand, although there have been increases, the cost of consultancy services has been reduced by 50%, from €3.1 million to €1.5 million. The Deputy also will be pleased to note that postal and communications expenses have fallen substantially, from €3.2 million to €2.4 million. This is the result of substantial expenditure in our communications infrastructure between Ireland and its development programme countries. Costs in this regard are high because we engage in daily communications with such countries and a considerable amount of expenditure in information and communications technology has reduced that head of expenditure. Overall, these figures explain how the amounts remained virtually static even though the actual budget itself has increased proportionately. However, the development assistance committee peer review considered a five-year period when aid volumes were static or increasing and our administration budget compared very favourably with all other OECD countries during that time.

It might be useful for this committee to receive a report from the interdepartmental committee, which I understand the Minister of State chairs. Members are continually defeated in their attempt, for example, to seek the consistency and integration to which the review group pointed in respect of trade, aid, debt, finance, multinational institutions and so forth, which is important. In an effort to prevent members from wasting time needlessly, I have no difficulty with anything related to what is included in Vote 29. However, I regard the Vote as inadequate. For the record, on behalf of my party, I oppose the disproportionate level of cuts in respect of Vote 29. They constitute perhaps two and a half times the level of cuts that were endured in other parts of Government expenditure. The severity of the proportionate cut is evident when one considers the total volume of the cuts in public expenditure. While I am not particularly interested in opposing the Vote, because I agree with everything it contains, I will return to an issue the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, must address. If he is serious about the manner in which Ireland's international reputation is carried by its commitment to the United Nations target, he would seek in Cabinet ring-fencing of Ireland's relationship with the poorest people of the world. This is where I stand on the matter and there is no point in putting it otherwise. The Minister of State has been given a near impossible task.

Little time remains as the Minister, Deputy Martin, took up much of the allotted time. My interest was in the cuts that have been made and the impact they will have. For instance, I wanted to go through the subhead on bilateral co-operation. What criteria were used to make the cuts? I would like to go through them. Many programmes were cut and the Minister of State should provide members with the basic criteria and a basic explanation as to where and how Irish Aid cut as much as it did in particular areas. Moreover, who made those decisions?

I would be delighted to so do. There is no difficulty in discussing our decisions or the criteria that were employed as a clear rationale is evident in this regard. I will refer briefly to the two points raised by Deputy Higgins. First, a meeting with the interdepartmental committee would be an excellent idea, as Deputy Higgins has a clear and keen understanding of the relationship between aid, trade, environment, economics and many other issues, all of which are interrelated, with regard to the benefits Ireland can bring to developing countries. This is an excellent suggestion on which I can work.

As for the issue of disproportionality, I certainly accept the cuts have been significant. However, I ask members, commentators and people in civil society to keep some degree of perspective and context regarding our expenditure. Our expenditure targets were framed in the earlier part of the century over a period of between 12 and 15 years. The 15-year target pertains to the European Union, which set its target for 2015, while Ireland set its 12-year target for 2012. Within that 12-year period, our budget also increased disproportionately on a massive scale during good times. This issue must be considered over a long period. We must reach our target of 0.7% of GNP in the context of an economy that is robust and strong. It must be able to translate that percentage in real sums for the people in those aid countries, that is, in euro. A contribution of 0.7% from an economy that is in contraction or in serious decline will do no service to our partner countries in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. They need to have a strong and robust economy to deliver the aid volumes that will have a real effect on the ground.

I could elaborate on some of the other points that were raised.

May I provide the Minister of State with a single example that he mentioned on his one-page note in the context of bilateral assistance? It refers to expenditure on global health initiatives and on HIV-AIDS in particular, stating that it will exceed €100 million. However, in subhead B, expenditure in this regard has fallen from €43 million to €16 million. The Minister of State should indicate how that large cut was made and what thought process lay behind it.

I should give the Deputy an overall flavour of the situation with which we have been required to deal. As he is aware, the Government made a decision in early January to reduce the 2009 Estimate by €95 million. The subsequent emergency budget to deal with the evolving financial crisis saw a further reduction of €100 million. While I accept that these were substantial reductions, we needed to make choices based on both Government decisions.

Regarding the criteria employed in respect of the figures, our overarching desire was that core assistance to partner countries should be protected in so far as was possible in all circumstances. On a country-by-country basis, it was also our desire to protect life-saving activity within those bilateral programmes, be it humanitarian aid or emergency assistance.

This is what I cannot understand. The Minister of State has always made those comments, which is fair, but something that is essential to keeping people alive is being hit with a significant cut.

The Deputy must let me finish. One must consider all sections of multilateral assistance — UN agencies, NGOs, civil society, development education and a host of other areas — in terms of their immediate impact on the ground, namely, programmes to help the poorest of the poor. One must examine the decisions being made in each section, recognising that there must be reductions across the board, as no area can be immune. For example, we have needed to reduce funding to multilateral agencies substantially. The reduction is proportionately greater than the reduction in bilateral assistance, approximately 20%. The same applies in respect of civil society. In January, we initially tried to front-load NGOs' expenditure to 70%, which they welcomed because it gave them predictability and a chance to plan for the year.

Regarding programme countries, it is a question of each Embassy, mission or programme working with governments or partners in the countries to examine how to manage the reductions. If one is working in the education field in a particular country, one would want to build X number of schools through its education Department to train Y number of teachers to increase the country's capacity to educate a growing population. In light of real decisions on the ground, such projects will not be completed within the expected timeframes. I fully accept that the commitments given in this respect will not be met. These are the types of criterion that one must employ.

In Malawi, we have taken a lead position on agriculture and provide substantial agri-inputs to its fertiliser programme. The programme is so successful that, according to Ambassador MacGabhann, Malawi will be virtually food secure for the first time in many years. Ireland has been a lead donor to this area, which we will protect to the best of our ability. However, other of the programme's aspects will need to suffer. While I do not have precise figures with me, were we to spend €1 million on, for example, governance——

A delegation appeared before the committee. Some €2 million or €3 million was spent on the census, including its study.

Censuses would not be done in the types of timeframe the Deputy has in mind. One must consider each sector and country to determine priorities. One must focus on saving lives and humanitarian aid. In terms of building up infrastructure, we must remember that development is divided into a number of aspects. Long-term development enhances a country's capacity to relieve itself from poverty over many years. I accept that the relevant projects will suffer, but life-saving and humanitarian projects will be protected as much as possible.

My next question reverts to Vote 28. Perhaps I am ignorant of the answer, but will Ms Whelan explain how her division fits in with the IDA and the business development works under way in the Department and embassies?

It might be better to put the question to the Minister.

What is the protocol?

The Minister should answer the questions.

I do not have direct responsibility for this area, but I echo the Minister's comments on bringing a business focus to many of our in-house programmes. For example, the Prague mission works closely with Enterprise Ireland, as they share a building and interact heavily. The intention is to mirror this model elsewhere. Last Thursday evening, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment hosted a dinner at our London Embassy as a means to allow businesses in Britain to expand further. This is an example of using diplomatic missions and embassies to further business and economic interests.

Ms Mary Whelan, who is responsible for this area within the Department, will appear before the committee in July, at which time the Deputy will have ample opportunity to examine how the agenda will be progressed.

I did not mean to break protocol.

That concludes the committee's consideration of the Revised Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2009 and the annual output statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs. On behalf of the committee, I thank the Minister, Deputy Martin, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and the officials in attendance.

My reservations should be noted.

The Deputies' reservations have been noted. The clerk has been busily writing them.