I take the point the Deputy is making and I assure him that absolutely and utterly there has been a response from the Irish Government at Geneva on these issues. The danger of situations such as these is the mistakes are repeated. I reassure the committee that not only were we very responsive and we influenced the international response, and great credit is due to our embassy staff, but we were also able to feed back into multilateral organisations, such as the EU, which is represented in Sierra Leone, the UN, WHO and other UN-affiliated organisations. When I say Sierra Leone, I mean the three most affected countries in west Africa. There is no doubt that we will use our experience to be able to influence future responses on issues such as Ebola should it arise again.
I wholeheartedly agree with the point made by Deputy Smith on tied aid, and I am in agreement with the Deputy on the idea of looking at potential procurement opportunities for Irish companies in order that they can build capacity, or at least they can be assisted. The Department title includes the word "trade" and there is no contradiction in assisting Irish SMEs with their relationships to build capacity for procurement opportunities through multilateral organisations such as the UN World Food Programme, or seeking to open doors in order that they can bid competitively for services which might be provided internationally. I hope this answers the question which has been posed.
The 0.7% target was set in 1973 - I was going to say as I recall but I was only a year old - and we should consider where Ireland was then. We are talking about Ireland now and this programme. The world has changed. In monetary terms, we provided €667 million in 2011, €629 million in 2012, and €637 million in 2013. There has been a slight increase on the 2012 figure. I take the point that one could contend that changes in GNP figures, which are the national accounting statistics, from the point of view of the EU or EUROSTAT, has probably made it look a little better than it is. The Government is focused on stabilising it, which is what we did in the budget, and beginning to increase it, and staying focused on the 0.7% target. Obviously this target is predicated on future economic growth and the economy growing sustainably. We are still very mindful of this and we should not take our minds off the target. We should very much keep the focus on it, particularly in light of the upcoming negotiations vis-à-vis the sustainable development goals, in which Ireland will have a key part through the co-facilitation of talks. I absolutely and utterly understand the point made, but we will try to increase the monetary value and create an impact.
On Deputy Crowe's point on bilateral and multilateral engagements, we have had to keep faith with our commitment to multilateral organisations, particularly the European Development Fund. We have seen a monetary increase in total terms on the overall vote and package but with a slight decrease in Vote 27. Overall the monetary terms have increased. It speaks to the fact that while in percentage terms there has been a positive change of 0.3% between 2014 and 2015 and overall overseas development aid is increasing, Vote 27 has decreased slightly and we acknowledge this. We still retain the commitment and we are increasing it in monetary terms.
There is no shift in policy. I feel strongly that we are as good as the Irish Aid team we have, which I feel is excellent. The Department has many experts in humanitarian development and development related specialists. There is a strong sense of ensuring the relationship with the NGOs is strengthened. If I had one thing to say, which is a personal viewpoint subject to a tyre-kicking exercise, we could foresee further collaboration between organisations and NGOs on key thematic areas in certain geographies. It is an area I would like to examine further. Concern, GOAL, Plan and Trócaire are all excellent organisations, and there is no organisation which does not have excellence as part of its brief, but in certain geographical areas in which we are working, such as South Sudan or Ethiopia, with which we have a key partner country relationship, we could consider bedding down a greater degree of collaboration between organisations such as GOAL and Concern, which are already there giving humanitarian assistance and providing other programmes, to build a brand Ireland platform. The Development Assistance Committee's report states the impact is very strong with regard to taxpayer funding and how the agencies work and deliver. There is no shift in policy. We need to have a good mix of multilateral and bilateral engagement. Our bilateral engagement has become more successful because we have very strong ambassadorial teams in the key partner countries. We also have very strong NGOs, and there is a seamless relationship between the two. All of the members of the committee and I have seen this at first hand through various visits to the key partner countries.
I am not concerned about transparency.
The Ugandan example and the systems that have been put in place since then allow us to ensure that there is an effective approach and a clear managerial line in relation to how we look at the programmes and the impact that they are delivering. If one looks at the key partner countries, because we have embassies there, we have embassy teams. The teams interact with government officials if the programme is being delivered at a governmental level, and they interact with NGOs if the programme is being delivered at NGO level. I am confident that there is a robust mechanism to ensure transparency in how the funding is delivered, but sometimes it is very hard to put a metric on it. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for research and innovation, I saw how metrics could be used. One could put a euro in at one end and one would know the impact in terms of intellectual property or if a job was created. However, it is very difficult to measure the number of lives one assists in a process such as we are discussing because aid is more nebulous, but one can see the effect when on is on the ground. When one meets workers from GOAL or Concern, one can see the number of people they feed every day. That is sustaining life, but with development programmes, for example, sustainable agriculture programmes in places such as Tigray, one can see farmers and know that because of programmes supported by Irish Aid through the NGOs, not alone are they sustaining life and limb but they are also layering education and other benefits.
Deputy Crowe referred to the example of fistula and the work we are doing through the fistula hospital. There are further opportunities in terms of using the research infrastructure or knowledge we have to assist in garnering greater information in geographies such as Tigray which is part of a country with in excess of 90 million people. We must examine how we can work with people on the ground to get better statistics or to provide good maternal health programmes for women and to encourage them to go to community centres to deliver babies in a healthy space. Such an approach will ensure that we help Ethiopia to wipe out this problem once and for all. That is a key area on which we support action.
In response to Deputy Eric Byrne’s question, one has international agreements through multilateral organisations such as the UN. He should forgive me if I have missed the point he made or the question he asked. The Government, through our ambassadorial teams in Geneva and New York, has a monitoring system of the human rights elements and the labour clauses and we are a constituent part of the UN organisations themselves. I refer to the UN High Commission for Refugees, for example. There is a monitoring element in that regard.
I will speak from my experience of dealing with the key partner countries we fund in sub-Saharan Africa and Vietnam. The framework for action is an excellent document, if I do say so myself, in terms of the work the people within the Department have done. There are high level outcomes. Three goals have been set out. The first is reduced hunger and stronger resilience. The second is sustainable development and inclusive economic growth and then one has better government, human rights and accountability. Ten outcomes are listed which I will not go into now. Underpinning that are key results areas that one expects. Everything we do has a monitoring effect. Our staff and people in the key partner countries are clued into the policy. If I am representing the Government in an engagement with the president of the Tigrayan region and, for example, we are supporting a programme in Tigray, it means that we must ensure that any programme we support measures up to the goals we have set ourselves on issues such as human rights. There is a mechanism in place.
One could take an approach to human rights to the effect that we are pulling the plug on the money if a country does not do X. Our foreign policy must be predicated on the idea that one deepens relationships and builds capacity, for example, from the point of view of education in order that an educated population grows up and has a better chance. We take a long-term view of what we do. There is no better example of engagement at bilateral level than when on a recent visit to China the President had to deliver a very nuanced message about what needs to be done from a human rights point of view. One takes opportunities like that while building up and deepening the relationships. There is a diplomacy to it, if one likes. I hope I have answered the questions adequately. Please let me know if I have not.