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Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 10 November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ceisteanna (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the war in Syria with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21323/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of climate change with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21324/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issues of world hunger and Ireland's record of overseas development aid with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21325/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed Uganda's record on its intolerance of homosexuality with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21326/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the actions the United Nations is taking with regard to African countries where homosexuality is illegal with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21327/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, during the Secretary General's two day visit to Ireland in May 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31701/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the deployment of Irish troops in United Nations peacekeeping roles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31702/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the resettlement of refugees in this State with the Secretary of General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31703/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the marriage equality referendum result and its implications for other states where homosexuality and marriage equality are banned with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31704/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

12. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. [31776/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

13. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31779/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 13, inclusive, together.

I met with United Nations Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon for a courtesy call on 26 May. Mr. Ban was in Ireland to receive the Tipperary International Peace Award. I was delighted that his visit took place in the year that we mark the 60th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the United Nations, as well as the 70th anniversary of the UN's establishment. The Secretary General and I had wide-ranging discussions in which we discussed some of the key issues facing the United Nations and the role that Ireland is playing to support UN initiatives. The Secretary General paid tribute to Ireland’s commitment to the UN and he praised, in particular, our long-standing participation in UN peacekeeping operations. We spoke of Ireland's continued engagement on global hunger issues, including with the Zero Hunger initiative. I raised with the Secretary General the enhanced contribution which Ireland and Irish agribusiness could make in the field of milk processing technology to address food insecurity and malnutrition.

We discussed the role that Ireland was playing at the time of the meeting as co-facilitator of the post-2015 development agenda negotiations. As the House is aware, the product of these negotiations was the new UN sustainable development goals.

These were launched at the UN sustainable development summit in New York in September 2015, the largest gathering of world leaders in the history of the United Nations. The drafting of this document, accepted by many nations, was in the main the work of Ambassador Donoghue, the Irish ambassador to the UN, together with his Kenyan counterpart, and we owe them our congratulations. Secretary General Ban and I also discussed the need for UN member states to continue to provide appropriate levels of overseas development aid. This issue was subsequently addressed at July’s Addis Ababa conference on financing for development, at which Ireland was represented by the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock.

My meeting with the Secretary General took place shortly after the historic vote in the same-sex marriage referendum and we discussed the importance of supporting LGBT rights in the domestic and international context. On this point, the Secretary General and I were in agreement that prejudice and discrimination against the LGBT community must be tackled at every opportunity and that Ireland would continue to support the work of the UN Human Rights Council and other fora to combat homophobia.

On Syria, we spoke of the ongoing migration crisis and of the need to find an agreed approach at EU level to address the problem effectively. The Secretary General was complimentary of the compassionate approach that Ireland has taken towards resettling refugees. As we all know, the situation within Syria and with regard to migration has deteriorated since May, but our commitment to finding a suitable resolution and providing support to those affected by the crisis has not diminished.

With regard to climate change, the Secretary General expressed his appreciation for the position taken by the EU in the negotiations which, it is hoped, will lead to a global agreement at the forthcoming COP21 conference in Paris in December. I underlined Ireland’s commitment to an ambitious and legally binding agreement. Overall, this was a very useful opportunity to engage with the Secretary General on a range of issues of mutual concern.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He will agree that the UN Secretary General has rightly expressed his urgent concern regarding the escalation of events in Syria and the failure to put the interests of refugees first. When the Taoiseach met Ban Ki-moon, I am sure the fact Syria represents the largest humanitarian disaster for decades must have weighed on their minds. It is the direct result of a brutal regime which would not let its own people have even very basic freedoms. Unfortunately, some countries that see the spread of democracy as a threat have worked to prop up the regime and the situation has radicalised. As they face into the winter, the position of the refugees is desperate. We have to respond generously to those who have fled to Europe seeking safety and shelter.

It seems the scale of the response is underwhelming. Even in Ireland we are looking, at best, at 200 before the end of the year: 100 at the very beginning of the year and 100 at the end of the year, despite all the hype about thousands and so on. People much prefer more precise figures and the real story as opposed to headlines that scream out 3,000 and 4,000, when there does not appear to be any prospect of that, regardless of whether one agrees with it. There is no scheduling and no plan has been published regarding how set numbers will be achieved.

The bottom line is whether, in the Taoiseach's discussions with Ban Ki-moon, the more important issue of addressing the needs of the millions in camps in the region was raised. The failure to address these needs is one of the reasons so many people risk so much in undertaking the dangerous journey to Europe. They would not be coming to Europe if the situation were made more habitable in the camps themselves in terms of education, work, quality of life, and so on. Would the Taoiseach accept that the response supporting displaced people in and around Syria has failed and that we now need something far more ambitious from Europe in that regard? The recent decision of the European Council gives humanitarian support in the region only a fraction of the amount being spent on trying to contain the issue in Europe. Would the Taoiseach agree that is reflective of perverse priorities? The bulk of Europe's resources should go to improving the situation in the camps in order that the motivation to leave them and migrate to Europe would not be as strong as it is. Were there any discussions about the United States playing a role by taking some people from this war-torn region?

The Taoiseach knows my second question deals with the new wave of repression being directed by some countries in Africa against their lesbian and gay citizens. I refer to Uganda in particular and its intolerance of homosexuality and ask that the Taoiseach raise that issue with Ban Ki-moon. It is the nature of extreme populists that they will seek to find enemies within and try to get some moral hysteria going. The dangers faced by gay and lesbian people in many African countries have become significantly worse in recent years. Would the Taoiseach agree that the United Nations should take a lead role in combatting this discrimination and repression?

Would the Taoiseach also agree with the action of some donors in insisting that no funding can go to any organisation that supports the repression of lesbian and gay people? This is an issue we should also consider. Like many donor countries, we do put even very basic conditions pertaining to democracy and governance issues on aid and seek to bring about change for the better in this respect. This issue is one where it is legitimate and moral to leverage something from the governments in terms of their approach and particularly the repressive attitude towards the gay and lesbian community in African countries. We donate quite a significant sum of money from our Irish Aid programme to Africa, especially to Uganda, and some of the programmes are very good, especially in education. We do a hell of a lot in terms of primary school participation in Uganda. I have been there in that context. However, we cannot run parallel silos in terms of supporting those programmes while turning a blind eye to the unacceptable repression, discrimination and almost state oppression faced by the gay community in Uganda and across Africa generally.

In terms of climate change, would the Taoiseach accept that the Government is being quite tardy and lacking in ambition in respect of our contribution to the wider debate on this?

I will deal with the question of gay and lesbian rights in the first instance. An anti-homosexuality Bill was passed by the Ugandan Parliament in 2013. That Bill was signed into law by President Museveni in February 2014. The Act further criminalised homosexuality and imposed even harsher penalties. In a welcome move in August last year, the law was struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda as the President lacked a quorum when the Parliament passed the Bill. Uganda's President Museveni has indicated that he will not pursue new anti-homosexuality legislation as current legislation, that is, the law prior to the one that went through without a quorum, is sufficient. The Ugandan President has also acknowledged the extent to which the legislation has damaged Uganda's reputation which he sees as important for investment in the hospitality sector and so on.

Ireland, along with other donors, engaged intensively on this issue behind the scenes and at the highest level with the Ugandan Government and continues to do so. Some aid donors instituted aid cuts to the Ugandan Government when the anti-homosexuality law was enacted. As Ireland had not provided funding through the Ugandan Government since 2013, prior to the enactment of that Bill, this question did not arise in respect of funding from Ireland. Nevertheless, there continues to be discrimination against LGBTI communities in Uganda and elsewhere in the region, including reports, as Deputy Martin pointed out, of violent attacks against some people. We strongly condemn discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity and support the promotion and protection of the human rights of all persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. We are working with the authorities and the human rights organisations in Uganda to address the safety concerns of the LGBTI community.

In the context of our membership of the UN and, in particular, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland is strongly committed to combatting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and supports the promotion and the protection of the human rights of all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, the Government's review of foreign policy, The Global Island: Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World, which was published in January 2015, reaffirms our country's commitment to promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals, who continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and face systemic discrimination in many countries. During the 2013 Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, we facilitated and made substantial input into the EU guidelines on LGBTI issues, which were adopted during Ireland's Presidency. We are currently participating in EU discussions on the implementation of these guidelines as part of the European Union Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019. In addition, our diplomatic network has been active in its advocacy of LGBTI rights, including on issues relating to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and by supporting civil society organisations that are active in the field, many of which operate in difficult environments.

I agree with Deputy Martin; nobody could disagree. The exodus from Syria is unprecedented. Over 1 million people have been assimilated into south Lebanon, many in poor conditions. I understand the camp in Jordan is well run, but it is in the desert and a long way from anywhere. The refugees, many of whom are middle-class and educated, with their families, who were the first to leave Syria, have a sense of frustration at what is not happening for them because they see others being adopted by other countries, in some cases in considerable numbers, and this is a cause for concern. The European Council has discussed this on a number of occasions and we have received reports from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, about the problems arising due to the reduction in the amount and quality of food given to many of the camp residents. I might say it has been brought to my attention that the camps in the Horn of Africa are simply appalling. Clearly, the news today from Ethiopia of a severe drought that may lead to serious problems next year is not encouraging.

Deputy Martin will be aware that in Turkey there are a further 2 million Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom would like to stay in their own country if the situation were normalised. For the first time, Iran was involved in discussions. This cannot and will not be sorted until Iran, Russia, Syria and the United States are able to hammer out a solution. Otherwise, the exodus from Syria will continue. I have spoken to people who worked in Syria a number of years ago when that country was making great progress, but it is now in a desperate situation whereby Assad has been responsible for the vast majority of deaths that have occurred there. It is a really difficult situation that is taking up quite a deal of time at the European Council. The consequence of not being able to deal with it are these significant numbers of refugees moving through the Balkan countries to Austria, Germany and some of the Nordic countries. This will get much more difficult in the next two or three months with the coming of winter. In eastern Europe, winter can be exceptionally harsh and very different from what refugees from more southerly countries have been used to.

On the question of the free movement of people as a cornerstone and principle of the European Union, either one has external borders that one is able to deal with and has internal freedom of movement, or one does not. A case in point is Greece, where there are significant difficulties; this is now at last being focused upon by the European Council. Meetings held recently mean that there are negotiations and discussions with the Turkish authorities on the opening of pre-accession chapters for consideration for the European Union. and also on requests for funding to deal with the scale of the influx into Turkey and, obviously, the other problems arising from that.

I take Deputy Martin's point that organisations that do not support the rights of LGBTI persons should not be in receipt of funding from any country, and in so far as any aid from Ireland to such organisations is concerned, I will have that checked with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I will start with the issue of global warming and climate change. NASA recently revealed that the world's sea levels have risen by nearly 8 cm since 1992, and the UN has estimated that sea levels will rise by 1 metre or more by the end of the century. Of course, that has significant implications everywhere. In some parts of the world, it means hurricanes, cyclones and storms of greater ferocity than ever witnessed previously. When I visited Cuba recently, Ministers spoke of their concern about the problem of drought arising from climate change, particularly in that island. Returning to our own island, under the European Commission's energy and climate package of 2008, we are required to deliver a 20% reduction in non-emissions trading scheme, non-ETS, greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 relative to the levels that existed ten years ago. This is not an ambitious target but it is crucially important. It seems we will not meet our 20% reduction target by 2020 and we will actually be lucky to achieve half of this. Strong growth in emissions from transport, agriculture and other areas are key factors. Non-compliance with the targets carries a fine of €600 million in 2021. That should be a secondary consideration. Is the Taoiseach concerned that we will not reach our target reduction, and what steps have been taken to reverse this trend?

On the issue of the UN forces, the Taoiseach will be better aware than I am that 500 Defence Forces personnel are committed to 12 different international missions, such as UNIFIL and UNDOF in Syria. Famously, we also have the 60 naval personnel on the LE Samuel Beckett saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean. All of these men and women are performing their duties with distinction and they deserve our support and commendation. Has there been any additional request from the UN for Irish troops or personnel to serve in other trouble spots?

I have raised this issue with the Taoiseach on a few occasions. Has the Government resolved to the satisfaction of the naval personnel engaged in the maritime humanitarian search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean the amount paid to them for the stressful and hazardous work that they are engaged in? The Minister for Defence stated a month ago that the Naval Service personnel were not involved in an armed mission, but the fact is that they must be armed because some of those with whom they are dealing are dangerous smugglers. I am sure our hearts go out to those refugees, but they also go out to the naval personnel who have to retrieve the drowned remains of women, men and children from the sea. These personnel certainly deserve to be financially recognised for their efforts. We were told that the issue of payments was under review. Can the Taoiseach give us a progress report on this?

On the issue of refugees, we are a people who have our own memories, both folk and historical, of coffin ships, and we now watch on our television screens as refugees make the considerable trek of hundreds of kilometres across the European mainland.

Every week brings a different element. Did the Taoiseach have the opportunity to talk to the UN Secretary General about any of the detail of Ireland's contribution to resolving or trying to relieve the problem with our refugee protection scheme? Will we accept the 4,000 refugees anticipated? How quickly can it proceed? The number we are to take between now and Christmas is pitifully small. Does the Taoiseach have other information on the progress of the programme, such as the numbers anticipated, when they will arrive and the provision of accommodation and services for them? Given the way we treat people in direct provision centres and the way we treat members of the Traveller community, we must be sure we are not creating more difficulties for these people when they reach our shores.

Did the Taoiseach have the opportunity to discuss the Palestinian situation? When I raised the issue with the Taoiseach last week, he did not answer me but said he would get back to me. I received a letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, which was totally unsatisfactory and fudged the issue. It failed to acknowledge the expressed support of the Oireachtas for a Palestinian state. It is all about ongoing discussions and assessments. We need to show leadership. In these issues, as I have said many times here, Ireland has a certain global reputation, given our colonial past and the success of our peace process, imperfect though it may be. When we speak on these issues, we speak not least to the people in the region in a way they would understand and respect. What do Palestinian children do, being treated as they are, if nobody outside the circle stands up for them and recognises that they have rights? The EU Foreign Affairs Council meets next Monday. It is an opportunity. I never receive a report on all the meetings the Taoiseach attends. I never receive a report on this dreadful situation. The unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue is the main core of the destabilisation of the entire region.

Regarding the rights and entitlements of LGBT citizens, it was a major victory for humanity when, overwhelmingly, people voted in favour of marriage equality. The fact that it is being brought into law so quickly is to be commended. The Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted in support of marriage equality. Sinn Féin had moved the motion for the sixth time, this time with the support of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP. The previous five times, we did it alone. Although the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and other Unionist parties blocked it from becoming law, it was still a very important vote of confidence and a clear signal to LGBT citizens. As the Taoiseach noted, some 80 UN states have criminal laws against sexual activity by LGBT citizens, and in at least eight of these the death penalty can be imposed. While Russia does not have laws against homosexual acts, it has repressive laws against what it describes as homosexual propaganda. As the Taoiseach noted, there has been some success in overturning some of these laws in some states. Did the Secretary General give any indication of the work of the UN in combatting these injustices?

We referred to the Palestinian issue several times last week. At my request, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, wrote to Deputy Adams. The Government fully recognises Members' interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has done so for many years. Our goal is to achieve statehood for Palestine in reality, not rhetorically. The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on behalf of the Government and, therefore, the people, is continuing to reflect on whether earlier recognition by Ireland would be a positive contribution to the situation and how it might affect our voice and influence on the issue. Is it the right thing to do? Is now the right time? What are the consequences? With the current wave of violence in Israel and Palestine, our immediate priority, quite rightly, must be directed towards reducing tensions and general de-escalation of this volatile situation. The Minister and his counterparts across the EU will discuss, as part of the agenda, the Middle East peace process at the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 November.

The climate change situation is more severe than the Deputy mentioned. Whoever is in government between 2020 and 2030, if the targets for 2030 are based on the 2020 targets, the fines could run to the order of €5 billion or €6 billion, which is an astronomical charge. There is a real challenge for the Government. The people will elect a new Government in the spring, and if it becomes my responsibility, we will have a real challenge between now and 2020. Our profile in terms of the agri sector is similar to only one other country, namely, New Zealand. I have always held the view that the scientific analysis that was done originally was not, perhaps, as strong as it might have been, and it will make it very difficult for this country to achieve the 2020 targets, never mind the 2030 targets. This means if we are to get any concession from Europe, another EU country will have to take up that slack. Regarding the cost of reducing carbon, we have less room for manoeuvre than others, due to our circumstances.

I referred to the issue with President Hollande the last time I was in Paris and I said we would attend and support COP21, which he will hold next month in Paris. The potential charge on the country is very severe. We have some of the best minds dealing with the sector and trying to work out how, technically and politically, we might be able to demonstrate that while we want to achieve targets we can achieve, we should not be saddled with something unachievable. Most of Ireland's climate financing to developing countries, which comes to €34 million per year, is being provided through the Irish Aid programme. The resources are delivered principally for climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan African countries through our country programmes, civil society organisations and international organisations.

The Government has pursued the transition to a low-carbon agenda. Our goal is to achieve a competitive low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The Government's Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, which is before the Seanad, will build on existing efforts to decarbonise the economy. The Bill sets out the process to achieve this transition, including the adaptation of a series of national mitigation plans. In anticipation of enactment of the legislation, work has already begun on the first such plan. A cross-departmental steering group will ensure the whole-of-Government approach to the plan and engagement across the sectors that is necessary will happen. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill places the Government's adaptation efforts on a legal statutory footing. These efforts are focused on the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework, published in 2012. To protect vulnerable communities, the Government has prioritised the introduction of a new flood risk management programme being handled by the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris.

Annual spending on the programme, which is being handled by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, will reach approximately €100 million by 2021. The climate Bill also provides for an independent advisory council to advise the Government on matters relevant to mitigation and adaptation. The members of the climate change advisory council, who were announced in June of this year, are due to have their second meeting at the end of November. This will enable them to make an input into the important preparatory work that is already under way. At the Paris conference, we will strongly support an ambitious, legally binding, global agreement with broad participation as a core outcome of COP21. As an EU member state, Ireland is committed to playing its part in reaching an historic agreement on supporting decisions, which should put the world on a collective pathway to limit the average global temperature increase to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Ireland recognises that some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries need real assistance in responding and adjusting to climate change. We have maintained a flow of climate-related aid despite our recent economic circumstances. We deliver grants of approximately €34 million every year, mainly to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We are actively exploring options for scaling up that mobilisation of climate finance from public and private sources. The recent passage of the climate Bill is an example of the steps we are taking in this regard.

Deputy Adams spoke about defence personnel. I do not think we have had any further requests from the UN for defence personnel. Such matters have to come before the Cabinet and the Oireachtas before they can be approved. That is the context for the conditions that are set out for participation by Irish troops. I will advise Deputy Adams further on that.

While we are not part of the protocol for the migration crisis and the asylum seekers, we have decided to opt into the protocol and agreed to accept approximately 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees under the resettlement or relocation programmes over a couple of years. This is well in excess of any sort of notional quota that might be allocated. This figure includes 520 refugees whom we have offered to resettle from existing refugee camps. Some of these people have now started to arrive in Ireland. It also includes 2,800 people under the Commission's relocation proposals. An initial tranche of 20 asylum seekers from Italy or Greece will arrive here before Christmas. The other numbers will arrive in stages after Christmas. This first tranche will include Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers. The remaining people in that group - approximately 680 people - will be taken on a resettlement or relocation basis, with the final breakdown yet to be decided. As Deputies are aware, we have deployed Naval vessels - first, the LE Eithne, then the LE Niamh and now the LE Samuel Beckett - in the Mediterranean since June. It speaks for itself that 8,066 individuals had been rescued by 4 November last. Obviously, this rotation is due to be completed at the end of November. As the winter will have arrived at that stage, it is likely that a smaller number of boats will be travelling across the Mediterranean. The question of a further deployment will be considered at that stage in the context of what is actually happening in the region. I do not want to comment on the PDFORRA matter that was raised by the Deputy because it is the subject of arbitration at the moment. Perhaps it will suffice to say that the matter has not been lost sight of.

We provide financial support to other parts of the world that are affected by instability and conflict. Some €41 million will be provided by the end of 2015 to assist those who have been displaced as a result of the crisis in Syria. This is Irish Aid's largest response to a single crisis in recent years. Some €36 million has been allocated to deal with the humanitarian issue in Somalia since 2008. We have committed to and approved a doubling of our annual world food programme allocation from €10 million to €20 million for the next three years. High Representative Mogherini pointed out at a recent Council meeting that the level of food being given out for meals under the World Food Programme had been halved and that this was causing difficulties for thousands of children, in particular, who suffer from malnutrition and a lack of quality food. At the Valletta summit, which takes place this week, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, will make a formal announcement of a significant contribution to the EU trust fund for Africa. The establishment of the Irish refugee protection programme and, in particular, the efforts of the interdepartmental task force, are important elements that we have to consider as well.

When the Taoiseach met Ban Ki-moon, did he ask him for his perspective on the idea of statehood for the Palestinians? We supported the motion on their right to a state at the time it came before the House. We had earlier indicated our support for the idea of a Palestinian state anyway. We regretted the fact that Sinn Féin kind of went solo on it. My understanding was that all parties had agreed to meet to see whether a collective agreement across the House could be reached, thereby enabling us to speak with one voice. While the Parliament has done that to a certain extent, the Government and the State have not recognised Palestine's statehood in UN terms. I ask the Taoiseach to facilitate a meeting between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the respective party spokespeople on foreign affairs, or the party leaders if necessary, at which any issues the Minister may have with this can be teased out. The line "he continues to reflect" is classic diplomatic-speak. He can continue to reflect for a long time. I ask the Taoiseach to consider arranging for the foreign affairs spokespeople of all the political parties to meet the Minister. I agree that it should be more than rhetoric. If we are going to do something in this regard, it should be done in unison because there is greater strength in unity. I would appreciate it if that could be done because the construction of the settlements and the ongoing persecution and violence mean that the situation is getting more precarious and the two-state solution is becoming less viable. It is clear that a majority at the EU Foreign Affairs Council will support the stance of Israel, just as the US does. Something needs to be done to change the narrative of what is going on.

I do not think the flood risk provision of €100 million per annum by 2021, as mentioned by the Taoiseach in his reply, will be enough. I think the situation is far more grave than that. I suggest the Government needs to wake up because the rapidity of climate change is a serious issue. As we have seen, the storms that occur here have increased in ferocity and have greater levels of rainfall. Many coastal regions, including some cities, are now very vulnerable to flooding on an ongoing basis.

For the record, Sinn Féin did not go solo. This is an Oireachtas motion. The entire Oireachtas agreed to it.

I was referring to a Private Members' motion.

The key issue is that the Government has failed to act on the determination of the Oireachtas. When I was speaking a moment ago, I informed the Taoiseach that the letter I received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at his request was entirely unsatisfactory. In his reply, the Taoiseach essentially read out the content of that letter. We want to see the Government recognising the state of Palestine. It is quite right that we recognise the State of Israel. I support that position and I believe in a two-state settlement. Why is this country recognising one state but not the other state? The notion that it should have to wait until there is a settlement has been presented. No settlement will be reached unless progressive states in the international sense, including this State, raise their voices. Who else is going to do it?

I saw the Palestinian flag flying at the United Nations on the day of the climate change discussions. Obviously, that was remarked upon by a number of people. The point I am making in response to the suggestion that we should follow through with it now is that we need to be conscious of the fragility and uncertainty that exists at present as a result of the violence in Jerusalem, etc. I will certainly be happy to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to sit down with the Opposition spokespersons on foreign affairs to discuss this matter. I was invited to go to Israel and Palestine when I met the Israeli people at the UN. They were sitting across the aisle from the Irish delegation because the seating arrangement was decided on using alphabetical order. I raised this issue in conversation with them.

I assure Deputy Martin that we have set out the flood relief plan for the period ahead as best we can.

Clearly there are problems in his own city of Cork and in Galway, as well as a number of other places around the country that have been very severely damaged both by storms in the Atlantic and on the Irish Sea and because of rising tides and exceptional levels of water in rivers and lakes.

We will have a mid-term review of the capital programme, which sets out the spending of over €20 billion between now and 2021. The flood relief programme is being driven by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Harris. Obviously some of the works involved are pretty major and will take a while to put in place, in terms of planning, laying foundations, engineering works and so forth. One would like to think that we would have more but between now and 2021, quite a substantial amount of money will be spent, reaching €100 million by 2021. We could look at that question as part of the mid-term review of the capital programme. There may be some items of planned infrastructure that cannot go ahead because of court decisions or planning objections. If the economy continues to improve, which I hope it will, and we arrive at a balanced budgetary position from 2019 onwards, there will be more money available for whatever Government the people elect to deal with many of the social and infrastructural challenges that we have. We could certainly look at it in the context of a mid-term review.

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