Report on the Contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Economic Recovery: Statements
Deputy Pat Breen: I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, for being with us this afternoon to hear the report and to make his own remarks. I am delighted that he has taken time off his busy schedule to be here for this report.
I am pleased to present to the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on the contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to economic recovery.
From the start of our economic and fiscal crisis, the overriding task of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been the contribution that it can make to the country’s recovery. In turn, the joint committee, by extension, was required in its report to assess the way in which the Department rose to the challenge, and whether its structures were adequate for the task in hand.
Specifically, we wanted to be sure that the unique resource offered by the embassy network was used to best effect, in association with the relevant State agencies, in trade and tourism promotion and attracting foreign investment, as well as restoring Ireland’s reputation. We wanted to be sure also that the organisational structures at the Department’s headquarters provided the necessary support for this task and were adequate to the Department’s new responsibilities.
Over the course of about a year and a half, the joint committee engaged with a wide range of actors from the Department itself, the State agencies, chambers of commerce, employers’ and exporters’ organisations, and farmers’ representatives. Given the importance of the United States as a source of investment, the joint committee examined the operation of the consulates there. The task has given the members of the joint committee an excellent insight into the process of economic promotion. It has also impressed on us the importance of reputation, for which our embassies have a special responsibility. We have also come to appreciate the role of the Global Irish Network in fostering the international dimension of Ireland’s recovery.
The Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade adopted a number of strategies in response to the economic crisis and to the programme for Government, and the joint committee sought to explore the implementation of these strategies and their contribution to recovery. These strategies included the conferring of a trade promotion function on what had been the Department of Foreign Affairs; the establishment of the Export Trade Council; the programme of trade missions; the establishment of the Global Irish Network and the Global Irish Economic Forum; a strategic approach to St. Patrick’s Day activities; a more streamlined structuring of diplomatic missions and their further orientation towards the promotion of foreign earnings; the identification, in co-operation with State agencies, of priority markets; departmental restructuring, including the closure of certain diplomatic missions; and the impact of the “first 100 days” ambassadorial conference.
Given the importance of the United States as a trading partner and source of investment, the joint committee’s examination involved at the outset a visit which focused on three Irish consulates, as well as business networks and industry representatives in the related consular areas. This visit yielded valuable information supplementing that gathered in meetings of the joint committee.
The joint committee, at the outset, took careful note of the task set for his Department by the Tánaiste in his strategy statement, in which he stated that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “will have the leading role, in close cooperation with the State Agencies, Irish business and the Global Irish Network, in fostering the international dimension of Ireland’s economic growth.” It also had regard to the Department’s own strategy statement, in which the Secretary General, Mr. David Cooney, stressed that Ireland’s embassies and consulates were “a resource for the whole of Government … and will be seen to deliver a significant contribution to the objectives shared across Government”. He stated that over the next three years the co-operation with State agencies and with other Departments at home and abroad, and with non-governmental agencies and interest groups, would intensify, and structures would be put in place to maximise the benefits to Ireland from all the resources that the Department employed abroad.
The joint committee recognises that Ireland has a range of national interests to promote and protect, as well as a range of responsibilities to fulfil as a member of the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations and of the international community generally. According to its mission statement, the purpose of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is “to promote and protect abroad the values, interests and economic well-being of Ireland and its people”. The vigorous and competent attention to Ireland’s interests and responsibilities, for which the Department has long been known, cannot be separated easily from the promotion of economic interests abroad, which the embassy network has always pursued.
Nonetheless, at present it is more important than ever that the Department and the embassy network are focused on Ireland’s trade, investment and tourism interests. This is reflected in the enhanced role in trade promotion conferred by the present Government, although, as stated by the Tánaiste in his address at the ambassadors’ conference in 2011, this role was in part recognition of the valuable contribution the embassy network had been making to economic recovery.
[Deputy Pat Breen: ] The chief executive of Enterprise Ireland attends meetings of the Export Trade Council which is charged with ensuring a collaborative approach to building Ireland’s trade base. Working with the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, it mounts trade missions led at political level. A trade mission programme is discussed with the relevant Departments and State agencies before the beginning of each year and agreed to at the council. Enterprise Ireland also participates actively in the Global Irish Economic Forum which exploits the global Irish network to maximise benefits to the economy.
The joint committee was pleased to hear evidence that the working relationship between Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was strong at all levels and in overseas markets, as it should be. In Ireland the two organisations interact on a regular basis in a wide range of areas, including trade missions and trade events, joint economic commissions, economic messaging, compiling annual plans for each priority market and in other areas as need arises. Overseas, Enterprise Ireland is co-located with Irish embassies or consulates in 24 out of 30 office locations. There is strong collaboration in individual territories between the Enterprise Ireland team and the relevant embassy or consular office in areas such as information sharing, the establishment of priorities and the appropriate focus of activities in particular markets, the co-ordination of trade promotion activities, leveraging the Global Irish Network or other networks, establishing priorities for the joint economic commissions which Ireland has with four countries, organising ministerial visits and trade missions and seeking to influence the direction of local policy discussions where there are real barriers to growth in bilateral trade. Collaboration on messaging and reputational issues in markets such as China is particularly important in the promotion of services such as education.
In short, Enterprise Ireland collaborates closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and considers this essential for the achievement of Ireland’s full potential in international markets and to sustain and support new jobs in Ireland. As I stated, I am pleased to debate the report of the joint committee and will listen with interest to other Members before replying to their points in my second contribution.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): I thank the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade for the work done in preparing the report which has been presented to the House by the Chairman, Deputy Pat Breen. The report provides a clear analysis of the important contribution the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made and continues to make towards economic recovery and makes a number of excellent recommendations. These recommendations will form a very worthwhile input into the ongoing enhancement of the Department’s strategic approach to the promotion of Ireland’s economic interests overseas.
Economic diplomacy - the use of diplomatic tools and approaches in promoting Ireland’s economic interests abroad - has always been an important part of the work of the Department and Ireland’s network of embassies and consulates abroad. The central importance of economic diplomacy was recognised explicitly by the Government in 2011 when the Department was given an expanded responsibility in the area of trade with the transfer of certain trade promotion functions from the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The Government’s decision acknowledged the importance of economic diplomacy to Ireland’s economic well-being and development.
Ireland has one of the most open economies in the world. Since 2010 the value of our exports has consistently exceeded our overall GDP. Foreign direct investment sustains more than 160,000 jobs in Ireland directly and many more indirectly. Indigenous exporting companies supported by Enterprise Ireland employ 175,000 people and support a total of 300,000 jobs in the economy, or some 16% of the workforce. The 8 million tourists who visited the island of Ireland last year helped to sustain 240,000 jobs in communities across the island. These figures demonstrate very clearly how central the promotion of Ireland’s economic interests overseas is to the recovery and development of the domestic economy.
The promotion of our economic interests abroad is a major priority across government and the implementation of a co-ordinated and strategic approach to this work is fundamental to the success of our efforts. The Government has put in place effective co-ordination structures which recognise the central role played by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as the role of our ambassadors and embassies abroad in leading the co-ordination of work in overseas markets.
The Export Trade Council, established by the Government in 2011, works to strengthen co-operation and co-ordination across all Departments and State agencies involved in the promotion of trade, tourism and investment. The council, which I chair, brings together relevant Ministers and representatives of Departments, as well as the chief executives of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and representatives of the private sector, including, for example, IBEC and the Irish Exporters Association. The trade and promotion division of my Department provides the council’s secretariat. I am pleased to note the finding of the joint committee that the Export Trade Council has proved to be an effective instrument in identifying priorities and ensuring high level oversight of the performance of State agencies.
The Export Trade Council oversees the implementation of the Government’s strategy for trade, tourism and investment which guides our overseas economic work. A key task for my Department in the last year has been the co-ordination of a short, focused review of the strategy to ensure the resources of the State, both the embassy network and State agencies, are positioned to deliver maximum overall benefit for the economy, meaning good jobs for people at home. The outcome of the review was presented to the Export Trade Council on 6 February and has since been published. A particularly notable element of the review is the explicit alignment of the strategy with the framework set out in An Action Plan for Jobs. Notable, too, is the introduction of a “new market approach” which provides enhanced guidance for Ireland’s international trade, tourism, investment and education promotion efforts, not only for the 27 priority markets identified originally but also for an additional seven exploratory and high potential markets.
The Export Trade Council also oversees the work of local market teams which have been established in Ireland’s 27 priority markets. These teams are chaired by our ambassadors on the ground and consist of representatives of the embassy and State agencies. Each team is responsible for developing an annual local market plan and the implementation of these plans is reviewed by the council. I welcome the finding of the joint committee that industry and employer representatives consulted in the preparation of the report indicated a very positive experience of the work of the diplomatic service. The work of the embassy network has been an essential part of efforts to restore Ireland’s international reputation and drive economic recovery.
The scale of these efforts is notable. In 2013 the embassy network supported a total of 136 high level visits, with a significant economic or promotional dimension across 52 countries. These included, for example, a trade mission I led to Turkey in April, organised by Enterprise Ireland in close co-operation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy of Ireland in Ankara, during which contracts worth over €30 million to Irish businesses were agreed. The embassy network also undertook more than 730 engagements in the course of 2013 to facilitate trade and investment supporting Irish jobs, as well as more than 660 specific engagements to promote Ireland’s economic position to officeholders worldwide. Ambassadors and embassy staff engaged with over 1,150 representatives of the international media to promote Ireland’s profile and global reputation and key messages on Ireland’s economic recovery and its strengths as a location for foreign investment were promoted in opinion articles and interviews in the international media, reaching, at a very conservative estimate, more than 53 million people.
Speeches and public presentations by embassy staff promoted Ireland’s interests directly to audiences of over 778,000 around the world. This engagement by the embassy network, co-ordinated with the excellent work being done by the State agencies abroad, leads to real economic benefits for Ireland. It has helped to achieve the export growth which has driven economic recovery, with export levels now significantly higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007. It helped to get us to the position we reached in 2013 when Enterprise Ireland saw the highest net gain in employment for a decade in the Irish exporting companies it supported, when IDA Ireland achieved the highest level of net job creation from foreign direct investment in more than a decade and when agrifood exports promoted by Bord Bia reached an all time high. The economic and promotional work of our embassies has made a major contribution to these achievements.
The report of the joint committee notes the limited scale of Ireland’s diplomatic presence abroad relative to other countries of comparable size and economic interest, recommending that consideration be given to the strengthening of our network of diplomatic missions.
[Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ] The Government is convinced that the rewards we reap from our investment in economic diplomacy far outweigh its costs. Following the publication of the joint committee’s report, I announced the opening of eight new diplomatic missions. The selection of locations for these new missions was well aligned with the recommendations set out in the report: embassies will open in Bangkok, Jakarta, Nairobi and Zagreb, along with the reopening of the Embassy to the Holy See, and consulates will be established in Hong Kong, São Paulo and Austin. The opening of these new missions will expand the global reach of our economic diplomacy efforts and strengthen our capacity to advance key national interests in trade, tourism and investment promotion as well as building our broader diplomatic relationship with the countries concerned.
The programme for Government affirmed a determination to “restore Ireland’s standing as a respected and influential member of the European Union and as part of the wider international community”. In furthering this objective, our embassy network has undertaken a sustained campaign of outreach to international political and economic leaders, investors, media and opinion formers, to counter inaccurate coverage of Ireland and spread positive messages about the prospects of the Irish economy. Our representatives abroad are engaging across the board, with political office-holders, key parliamentary figures, senior officials, newspaper editorial boards, central bankers and industry leaders to put Ireland’s case. These efforts are supported by the trade and promotion division of the Department, which works to ensure that the embassy network is provided with the most up-to-date information and guidance on developments in the Irish economy and economic policy.
These efforts have made a significant contribution to the improvement in international sentiment towards the Irish economy. Ireland’s position is now better understood by those who make and influence decisions which affect our economic prospects. This work has helped to build renewed international confidence in Ireland’s economic future. It has created the conditions in which the Government has been able to achieve progress at European and international levels on key policy objectives relating to economic recovery, including our successful efforts to deal with the promissory note.
One of the key opportunities to spread positive messages about Ireland across the globe is provided by St. Patrick’s Day, which the report recognises as a unique and ever growing opportunity for reputational and economic benefit, which should continue to be used to the full. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the embassy network have been extremely active in taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, supporting visits by 27 Ministers to more than 35 cities in 23 countries across the world for a series of trade, tourism and investment-focused programmes. Embassies were, in many cases, instrumental in securing the “greening” of major landmarks across the globe, including the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Giza as part of the “global greening” campaign coordinated by Tourism Ireland. Embassies promoted an innovative video, produced by the Department in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland with input from the State agencies, which presented positive messages about Ireland to international audiences and has been viewed online more than 1.1 million times. They supported parades, cultural performances and business events which provided invaluable platforms for the celebration of Ireland and the promotion of our economic interests.
The Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Breen, remarks in his foreword to the report that the joint committee’s investigations confirmed that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is well equipped for its task and that embassies are regarded as effective partners by the State agencies and the private sector in economic promotion.
I very much welcome this conclusion, and can assure the House that the Department is determined to do all it can to further Ireland’s economic interests abroad. Across the globe, our ambassadors and embassy staff are working constantly towards this objective, and making a significant contribution to the success of our broader national efforts. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to work with determination and resolve to play its crucial role in supporting Ireland’s economic recovery.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I welcome this report. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has responded positively to the Chairman’s introduction of the report and to the detailed work of the committee members and the stakeholders and interest groups that participated in its preparation. Fianna Fáil agrees that the promotion of trade by our diplomatic network in the Department is essential and links well with our foreign affairs priorities.
The patent cliff in the pharmaceutical sector is of major concern and resulted in the value of experts in 2013 falling by 5% to almost €86.9 billion. Our banking sector is also of concern because the outstanding issues to be addressed, as Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, stated, are a drag on exports, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs. The Government must ensure that any threats to our export-driven economy are identified now and policies put in place to ensure that important exporting sectors remain on a sustainable growth path. Renewed efforts must be made to identify and support home-grown exporting companies. I am glad that over the past decade SMEs have had better access to higher education institutions, research centres and innovation. Many of the institutes of technology play a leading role in supporting existing companies to maintain and grow employment.
We need to continue to identify products we can produce at a competitive advantage and for which there will be a high international demand, in order to ensure the future prosperity of our people. Earlier this morning, I met a visiting vice minister and delegation of the international department of the central committee of the Communist Party of China. They represent the world’s second largest economy. They outlined the development of relations between our countries, particularly with the establishment of the Irish embassy in 1979 and of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China here in 1980. They spoke about the development of links between our two peoples and business development, particularly exports from Ireland. They are anxious that we continue to build and strengthen those developments, and outlined the opportunities for us to grow trade between our two countries.
One element missing from conversations about exports is the need for currency stability. In the last quarter of 2008 sterling depreciated by over 20%, which hit our exporters very hard because they had set their prices when the two currencies were at different exchange rates. International stability in currency is critically important to us.
According to an article by Geoff Percival in The Irish Examiner, of 15 February 2014:
CSO data published yesterday showed that the value of exports in 2013 fell 5% to nearly €86.9bn. Import value grew 1% to €49.6bn.
The US, Britain, Belgium, and Germany qualified as our main trading partners during the year, with an 8% increase in the export of food and live animals noted. [The Minister referred to the successful continuous growth of food and drink exports.]
However, the so-called patent cliff was again noted, with the export of medical and pharma products decreasing by nearly €3bn, or 12%.
Alan McQuaid, chief economist with Merrion Stockbrokers, said: “The pharmaceutical sector accounts for approximately a quarter of total Irish exports and half of merchandise exports. According to a research paper published by the Department of Finance last year, Ireland will continue to feel the negative impact of the patent cliff for some time to come, though the magnitude is unlikely to be as great as was felt in 2012. Furthermore, the headline impact should be offset to some extent by reduced imports through royalty payments.”
Mr McQuaid said exports will remain the main driver of Irish economic activity and that a pick-up in global demand this year should result in a recovery . . .
This is needed and it is very important for the country. The need for exports to double the European Union average shows how dependent we are on the good health of the international economy. The general pick-up in global demand will assist us and give us the opportunity to recover what has been lost through those circumstances.
Our Chairman, Deputy Breen, has addressed the recommendations contained in the committee’s report. I refer in particular to the Ireland House concept, which goes back to 1987. In a reply to a recent parliamentary question, the Tánaiste outlined the value and success of the concept to date, with consulates or embassies in 19 locations overseas. His own Department is represented alongside various statutory agencies. I am sure we can do more in that regard, however. When I visited the Ireland House in New York several years ago, I was heartened to see how Irish officials from different State agencies were working closely together. Savings can be achieved through sharing services and reducing overheads. I acknowledge this is not a straightforward concept because a country’s political capital may not be its industrial or business capital but we should attempt to progress it further.
Recently I spoke to an individual with business interests in Malaysia, who pointed out that we have a very small footprint in that country in terms of our embassy and State agencies. The population of Malaysia is almost 30 million and this business person made the claim - I do not know if it is correct - that agency officials are not available to do the follow up legwork required after trade missions. We know the value to be gained from having a Minister lead a trade delegation but the follow up work is also important.
I recognise that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other statutory bodies are challenged by reduced numbers and the moratorium on recruitment. Within the overall public service, however, it is still possible to transfer personnel to key areas that support our economic development and trade interests. Given advances in technology, there are bound to be divisions within the overall public service that could operate with fewer personnel. These individuals could be transferred to trade promotion areas. We could thereby align personnel to emerging needs without increasing the numbers employed in the public service. Ministerial delegations are important to the industries and businesses that participate in them but the follow up work is equally important.
Perhaps the committee should discuss further the division of responsibility for trade between his Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I fail to understand why responsibility for WTO negotiations does not rest with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In regard to international development, which is the responsibility of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, if we are ever going to achieve justice in world trade or offer the support the developing world needs in regard to removing tariff supports, trade and international development Ministers should be participating in WTO talks. This is an area that deserves further consideration and I hope responsibility can transferred.
Similarly, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation participates in meetings of European Union Trade Council. I do not know if it is wise to allocate responsibility in that manner. Responsibility for trade should rest with one Minister to the greatest extent possible. The Tánaiste referred to the strategy on trade, tourism and investment. At the launch of the strategy in September 2010, reference was made to an earlier strategy on trading and investing in the smart economy. That earlier strategy noted clearly that implementation of the measures and actions it proposed would require the concentrated and co-ordinated efforts of all key Departments and agencies, including our embassies and consulates abroad. This concept has, therefore, been around for quite some time and the more impetus we can give to consolidating responsibility for trade with one Minister, the better. Everybody could argue differently about the allocation of responsibilities between Departments but this is an area that should be revisited. Departments are good at defending their realms because they do not want to lose responsibilities.
Deputy Seán Crowe: Among the shake ups and changes that occurred when this Government came to power was the addition of a trade promotion division to the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the inclusion of “Trade” in the Department’s title. While legitimate concerns were expressed about this new direction, I welcome a whole of Government approach to trade promotion and recognise that Irish embassies and consulates are in a unique position to promote trade and investment.
However it is worth reminding the House about Ireland’s long-standing foreign policy goals and primary focus on human rights, development, the rule of law, peace and democracy. It is vital that our current economic crisis is not used as a smoke screen to override these long held and important strategic principles. When the Taoiseach and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation travelled to Saudi Arabia recently on a trade mission, they praised the unelected Saudi monarchy for its moderation and commitment to peace in the region. This is the same regime which is fundamentally opposed to democracy and abhors human rights so much that women are banned from driving or even leaving their home without being accompanied by a male relative. It is also the same regime which has been known to train and finance radical and violent Sunni Muslim armed groups to destabilise other countries in the region which challenge their negative and backward role in the Middle East. It is also the regime that allowed its armed forces to support the sectarian dictatorship in Bahrain and facilitated its crack down on democratic protests. The Arab spring and push for democracy were welcomed as long they were not in its own backyard. When challenged on their comments and asked by the media whether they had raised human rights concerns with the Saudi regime, the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, stated that they were on a trade mission and that it was not appropriate to raise these concerns. One wonders why they attempted to raise any political issues or why they needed to praise the regime in the first place.
As the committee’s report states, Ireland’s focus on the increased need for trade should not come at the expense of our long-standing contribution to international peace, security and human rights. I would compare the Taoiseach’s approach with that of the committee when it sent a delegation, of which I was a member, on a trade mission to Iran shortly after the aforementioned visit to Saudi Arabia. We were able to easily and openly discuss trade issues alongside human rights and other important concerns. This begs the question of why the Taoiseach was unable to do likewise in Saudi Arabia, which is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
This leads me to the area of policy coherence for development debate. We cannot continue to agree to trade deals which undermine our foreign policy and development goals. For example, the Government supports the development of a free trade agreement with Colombia. Even though the Colombian Government is a notorious human rights abuser and Columbia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, the Government wants to sign an agreement which rewards the regime and the economic elite of Colombia.
Deputy Seán Crowe: ] Surely, trade agreements should only be signed when they are mutually beneficial, promote development and sustainable economic growth and focus on eradicating poverty but with a caveat to ensure the protection of human rights. The same goes for the fishing agreement signed with Morocco which allows EU ships to plunder the fishing stocks of the occupied western Saharan people who were not consulted in any way and will not benefit. We should be strongly opposed to the deal. It is vitally important that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade focus on improving Ireland’s trade in developing and emerging markets.
There is general agreement that the State is still far too dependent on the British and US markets. While these relationships need to be nourished and sustained, we must continually review and widen our focus on new trade and investment opportunities in new and emerging markets. With this in mind, I welcome, as does the report, the Ireland House approach, essentially the co-location of our embassies and State agency offices. This not only reduces costs but also helps to facilitate a united approach to trade policies and allows a pooling of resources. I hope it will also lead to better outcomes. It is vitally important that these trade policies place a focus on the all-Ireland economy. While fiscal powers have still not been devolved from Westminster to the North - something the Government needs to push for and challenge - investments in the North will not only benefit society but also have positive spin-offs for the Border economy and the economy of this state.
As the report notes, St. Patrick’s Day offers Ireland a unique opportunity to access the corridors of power and speak directly to world leaders. It is worth noting and welcoming, as the report does, the hard work the Department has done to help to spread the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations beyond the historical Diaspora centres. The spread around the world is unique to Ireland and can be developed and encouraged.
I refer to the section of the report that deals with Britain and the European Union. It rightly states the concerns we should have about the proposed referendum on Britain leaving the Union. Trade between Ireland and Britain is worth €14 billion a year and should Britain go ahead with the referendum and remove itself from the European Union, it could have not only a very serious impact on Irish-British trade but also on the development of an all-Ireland economy. The option is being pushed by elements in London and British society. The Irish Government must be proactive in its plans on the issue and prepare to meet all scenarios.
I welcome the report which is positive and wish the Department well in its future role. I look forward to working collectively at the committee and in this Chamber. We want to see this process develop, as well as Ireland’s connection with other countries. We must have a view of the world. Our past means that we have a unique view of the world and the world looks differently at us. What is different about Ireland is that we have no hidden agenda in our trade with other countries, whereas one can argue that former colonial countries do. We are, therefore, in a unique position. In most places around the world there is warmth towards Irish people and a warm welcome. We have many doors open to us. There is also great potential to grow the economy. I genuinely believe we must look at who we trade with and how we trade with them. Is it beneficial and does it promote human rights? That is not to say we should not try to involve companies and bring them along on trade missions and visits. In recent years we have started to get our act together, which is a positive development.
I thank the committee for bringing forward the report and giving us the opportunity to speak about it.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: I acknowledge the work of the secretariat to the committee, its professionalism and efficiency. I also acknowledge the work of the Chairman, Deputy Pat Breen, and committee members, some of whom are in the Chamber. I acknowledge the frequent attendance of the Minister at committee meetings, which is very positive. In the last Dáil I was a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs which was chaired by former Deputy Michael Woods. It was dominated by two members - I mean that in the positive sense - Senator David Norris and President Michael D. Higgins. Its remit did not include the aspect of trade, rather it focused on human rights. It was a privilege to be a member of the committee with these two men because, no matter what human rights issue arose, they were knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with issues ranging from Tibet to Colombia. Today, the committee also encompasses the aspect of trade, which brings in a range of other issues.
The terms of reference for the report dealt with how the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade contributed to Ireland’s recovery, as opposed to linking it with the recovery of countries in the developing world. Recovery is not just about economic recovery; it is also about reputational recovery. The task of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade does not just involve overseeing the work of the Department but also global development and human rights issues. It was strange to have trade tagged on to foreign affairs because another Department had primacy in the area of trade. This is indicative of the changing nature of our relationship with countries in the developing world. We have a positive and strong reputation when it comes to development aid which came initially from the selfless work and commitment of Irish missionaries and lay people and that work continues today. I visited Ghana with a committee delegation and we saw a project that included work not being done by others. It was a leprosy mission - I had thought leprosy had been eradicated - in which a group of Irish people, aided by students from the University of Limerick, were working with survivors and children with special needs. This work is replicated thousands of times and contributes to our reputation. It continues through our development aid programme which has gained a strong reputation because it is lacking in self-interest. It was alarming to read the words of the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, that trade missions were not the place to raise human rights issues.
At one of our committee meetings to review foreign affairs policy we discussed this matter with a panel of speakers and considered the role of human rights when talking about trade. The question behind it is about our recovery which cannot be bought on the basis of very poor wages and appalling working conditions for those in the developing world. We must be proactive on this point. We must take on board ethical and sustainable economics in trade policy and they should not be ignored by the Government and the Department. It is not enough to say we are a member of the Human Rights Council or that we have a human rights unit, as if to say they will deal with human rights and that they do not fall into other areas of the Government’s work. That is paying lip service to the concept of human rights. Why would we accept for citizens in other countries with which we trade a more diluted form of human rights than we would accept for Irish citizens? The rights we enjoy must be recognised in the countries with which we trade. What is wrong with integrating stable, sustainable and responsible policies on the rights of workers, women and children into trade policies and our approach to trade? It can be done in a non-confrontational and non-offensive way, as we saw in Iran.
Around the world we are seeing an explosion, with 3 billion people in the new global working class. Some $1.25 a day is considered average and, in some cases, above average. People are told they are fortunate to have this sum, but we have seen the reality and the death toll in Bangladesh and Qatar. It includes an 80 hour working week and conditions worse than what was seen during the Industrial Revolution. A World Bank economist recently admitted that most people needed a minimum of $10 daily to rise above the poverty level. We cannot ignore this when we are trading with other countries, especially where workers are not being treated fairly. Speaker Continuing)
[Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: ] In terms of what is being delivered for Ireland because of the trade missions, the Chairman and the Minister outlined the range of those missions. There is a claim that additional jobs will be and have been delivered for Ireland, and we got figures in the Minister’s report, but where are they located? What is their sustainability? Who is being employed, and who is gaining from these trade missions? I believe many of them are private, profit-driven export companies and I wonder how much of that is being infiltrated back into our main economy. Are the jobs sustainable or are they dependent on international economic activity? Is there enough focus on domestic industry? Small and medium enterprises in this country complain of a persistent refusal by banks to grant loans that would make a difference to them. How much revenue is going to multinational companies and their elite shareholders, and how much is coming in to help our domestic recovery? There is a need for hard evidence in the report.
We talk about policy coherence. We have contributed very significantly to eliminating hunger. On one hand, Irish Aid is doing a fantastic job in eliminating hunger but, on the other hand, as a country we are not progressive enough when it comes to the issue of biofuels. We are seeing land being taken from people - land on which they would have grown food - to satisfy the biofuel needs of the developed world.
I want to acknowledge the reputation of Irish Aid in promoting human rights, but that must be upheld through demanding standards in all Irish business carried out overseas, including the trade missions, because it is a retrograde step and it undermines our reputation if we support human rights and business through separate avenues. Through being a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and through chairing the Irish section of UEPA, I have been able to visit a number of African countries, and there is no doubt about the esteem in which Ireland is held and the desire of people in those areas to do business with Ireland. That is mutually beneficial. There are serious concerns about the way in which other countries are doing business with developing countries in Africa - countries that do not have a human rights record and that exploit African countries. There is a positive role for Ireland to play because those countries in Africa would prefer to do business with us. We could explore fewer corporate-led trade policies, because there are trade relations that could deliver lower profits but greater benefits and more long-term partnerships with more sustainable jobs. There is huge potential for Irish uptake of public tenders for services and utilities.
Our third level institutions were mentioned. These institutions continue to produce innovative ideas for sustainable partnerships in areas such as health, energy and technology, as well as start-up companies that are serious contenders, but I would like to see more hard facts on how we are supporting them.
Including trade under the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs is an opportunity for human rights to be promoted through our trade missions, and it is not inappropriate that human rights would be discussed in trade missions to establish the importance of decent work, a decent living wage, safe working conditions and a voice for workers also, which we have in this country. We know that the global south is going through rapid industrialisation, and there are opportunities for our economy in that, but that rapid industrialisation has seen thousands employed in precarious and exploitative conditions, especially in the extractive industries. We have a moral duty to ensure workers’ rights in those areas.
When we were in Ghana we visited the two ports. There is no doubt that ports, and the business conducted there, are driving forces in developing economies. I launched the other side of the trade programme in Dublin Port this week and there were port managers there from Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Ghana. In my speech there I made the same points I am making now. There is an economic answer also, because workers who are being paid well and working in proper conditions that comply with health and safety regulations make for a much more contented workforce. That contributes to the economy also. Nobody disagreed with me on the points that I made there.
There is also the area of illicit capital flight. We must be a much stronger voice for country-by-country auditing to ensure profits are not totally in the hands of the multinationals. I listened to what was said by the stakeholders who were engaged in the report and on the Export Trade Council. Part of the One World, One Future document is a commitment to inclusive economic growth, but what we see at those meetings are the profit-making companies - I am not against profit - and their focus is on whether there a scenario there for them. We see the big businesses there but we do not see the other side. I say “Yes” to trade with the outside world and to trade that will benefit our economy, but we cannot compartmentalise and separate human rights issues from that.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report and to affirm the efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in selling Ireland. The key task facing this Government when we came to office was to try to put people back to work and, in this endeavour, every public servant, Department and agency have had to put their shoulder to the wheel. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was given a key role and specifically tasked with trade promotion. At the outset of this drive, I was privileged to witness at first hand the efforts of two embassies, one - in the company of the Ceann Comhairle - in Europe and the other in Africa. I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the professionalism and the enthusiasm they brought to their new task of selling Ireland. I am surprised that the potential to promote trade by utilising the unique skills and on-the-spot presence of our diplomats was not fully recognised prior to this, although I accept that perhaps in a less focused way the job of our missions abroad has always been to sell Ireland and it is only a logical and natural step that they should also participate in selling our goods and our services.
I do not believe anybody could fail to be impressed by the new professional and integrated approach to trade missions, led by Ministers and Ministers of State, that we have witnessed in recent times. They have taken a cross-Government approach and utilised all State agencies, including our embassies and local Irish businesses, often with the help of the global Irish network abroad. We have seen the proof that this has paid dividends in terms of both inward investment and contracts for Irish business. These missions are of vital importance to a small country that is utterly unsustainable unless it trades. This success has also been recognised and appreciated by Irish business, as confirmed in the report.
The Chairman, in his foreword to the report, mentions the importance of not downgrading the traditional role of the Department in showcasing Ireland in the best possible light not only as an economic unit but as a country concerned with development, human rights - Deputy O’Sullivan also referred to this - and the rule of law and as a country with a distinct culture, historic links with other countries and established national and international interests. These are not directly trade issues but they certainly influence trade. Countries, like people, want to do business with people; they know people and they trust people in whom they have confidence. The financial collapse damaged our reputation not only in the bond market but in all markets. Our embassies have been in the vanguard in trying to reverse that damage, spearheading a positive onslaught of good news stories from Ireland, because without trust, a good reputation and the traditional friendships we have abroad, our trade delegations would be ploughing very infertile land.
I refer to the point Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan made about trading with countries with human rights issues. All those countries that abuse human rights get away and persist with it because they are closed, but trade opens up countries - they are not mutually exclusive. We should trade with them. We should force them to realise what is going on in the rest of the world, and the more dependent they become on trade, the more likely they are to look into their own hearts and what they are doing to their own people.
Our embassies have been key in restoring our reputation and international confidence as a nation with which to trade. The St. Patrick’s Day offensive, as I call it, is also an important part of this, not only as a way of putting us back on the international stage and promoting us in a positive light but in promoting that other vital foreign currency earner, tourism. I thought it was a pity that some politicians criticised Ministers who were travelling to reach out to our diaspora on St. Patrick’s Day, because even the media recognise the value of these missions. They generate unbuyable goodwill and publicity for Ireland, our business and our tourism trade.
From the Department’s perspective, it is a combination of the hard sell and the soft - the goodwill which is paying off for us in terms of increased tourism, inward investment and trade.
[Deputy Olivia Mitchell: ] This two-pronged approach is reflected in the two divisions established in the Department, with one section dealing with promoting trade directly, supporting the Export Trade Council and working with our trade agencies, while the other concentrates on communicating to all foreign actors a very positive and coherent but accurate economic message. Recently I was at a conference in Greece which had nothing to do with trade, business or economics. Nevertheless the Greek Government ensured all of us who attended were given a good news message about the economy of Greece by the Minister for the press. This highlights the importance for countries, particularly countries which have suffered a difficult financial collapse, of restoring their reputation and economic diplomacy.
There has been much talk about emerging markets and I will not dwell on this because we are aware of where the potential is. Deputy Smith and the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Breen, spoke about the importance of an Ireland House-type approach when we are trying to expand our outreach. This is a very valid point. I understand we will shortly withdraw our ambassador from Lesotho. The Minister spoke about other missions which will open. It is important to capitalise on the potential to co-locate. It is not suitable for every country, but where it is it will give us better bang for our buck and will be a hall door into Ireland so we not only reduce our costs but gain synergies by concentrating our efforts in a single building.
I wish to issue a little warning, not only about how we sell but what we sell. We have all heard about the huge potential for agricultural products, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, FAO, tells us that by 2050 demand for food will have increased by 70%, not only to feed the extra 2 billion people who will be on the planet but to feed them different foods. Since 1980 world average incomes per capita have been growing at 1.5% and it is expected that by 2050 they will be growing by 2.5% annually. It is growing more in some areas than others; we hear about Asia and China and we all want a bit of that. In Africa growth rates which were unimaginable ten years ago have come out of nowhere. Nigeria is growing by 6%, and we now have trade missions to such countries which we would not have thought of in the past.
As countries get richer they want different foods. They move from a reliance on staples to more luxury foods, by which I mean meat and dairy products. For a food producing country such as Ireland, which specialises in meat and dairy, this change in world demand is a beguiling prospect. Our farmers are already capitalising and embracing the potential it offers. They should continue to do so, and I do not suggest they should not, but as a country we must be careful not to exploit the undoubtedly hugely attractive potential of agriculture to the detriment of other sectors. We need to keep all sectors going and not allow ourselves become overdependent on one sector. This must be the message of the collapse of the building industry on which we had became totally dependent.
I do not know what the future is, but I know that as an industry agriculture is as fragile as any other. Overnight we could lose our competitiveness and our comparative advantages through a range of changes. Any factor could influence it, such as climate change. Only a few weeks ago we were practically under water. If this continues our potential to produce will change. It could also be influenced by technological advances. Heaven knows, we could all be eating with a pill instead of dairy products in a few years. It is just a word of caution. There is room to exploit the wonderful opportunities of which our farmers can avail but we must be a little bit careful. The recent Amárach report referred to a worrying reduction in graduates for the IT sector. We must be wary of this. I know it is outside the scope of the report but it is important to remember if one does not produce it one cannot sell it.
I very much welcome the opportunity to endorse the report and commend the work of the Department and its embassies in their highly professional approach to trade and supporting our efforts.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): I thank the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Pat Breen, for bringing the report to the Dáil and for the opportunity to debate and discuss it today. Like others I acknowledge and thank all of the committee members who have made a contribution to the report and will comment on it during this debate, including Deputies Byrne, Crowe, Mitchell, O’Sullivan and Smith.
I will make observations on the report, which I have read, and respond to some of the points raised on the content of it and to the observations of colleagues on our foreign policy and the integration of trade into it. I wish to put the report and the debate into context and quote from an excellent book, which is part of a series entitled Documents on Irish Foreign Policy published by the Royal Irish Academy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is a superb series which publishes the archives of the Department. To date, eight or nine volumes have been published and they are released every few years.
One of the first documents in Volume 1 is entitled Message to the Free Nations of the World. It was one of the main messages from the first Dáil, published on 21 January 1919. The third paragraph states:
Internationally, Ireland is the gateway to the Atlantic; Ireland is the last outpost of Europe towards the West; Ireland is the point upon which great trade routes between East and West converge; her independence is demanded by the Freedom of the Seas; her great harbours must be open to all nations
Even at the very start of our foreign policy as we began to understand what and how we wanted to communicate to the outside world upon establishing our sovereignty, there was awareness of where we are in the world, our location and the opportunities this would create at some point for trade and communication with the outside world. The themes in it are consistent with some of the other discussions we have had. One of the earliest communications back to the Department of Foreign Affairs was from Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, who represented Ireland at the conference in Paris in 1919. In his communication of 7 March, amid all the great responsibilities he was managing, and they were great, awesome and so demanding, he stated:
The work I have in hands is I would like to remind you of the highest importance at the moment and it cannot possibly be done to best advantage if I don’t get help. It is inhuman to ask one man to carry it on all alone. I am working every day from early morning till late at night but I cannot divide myself into six parts
He goes through the costs and demands of the work, including the cost of living and communicating in Paris. The concluding line of his letter back to Dublin is, “Let me have some money as soon as you can manage it”.
I do not say this for flippant reasons. In the letter he communicates the huge practical difficulty he has in doing his work, which was so important to his country, and the cost of doing it. These are the main themes on which we have been touching during this discussion. While in some way the execution and articulation is contemporary, these have been themes throughout our foreign policy since the foundation of the State. A number of particular points in the report introduced by Deputy Breen touch on this.
[Deputy Paschal Donohoe: ] First, it is important that the report welcomes the restructuring that took place in the then Department of Foreign Affairs to include within it the role of trade promotion. I wish to return to comments made in this regard by Deputies Maureen Sullivan and Olivia Mitchell. The second valuable point is that the report acknowledges the feedback this restructuring has received from persons involved in industry and those who are trying to sell Irish goods and services abroad to the effect that they thought it was of help. The third point which I think is of value is that while the report establishes and notes the role of embassies, it makes particular reference to the role of consulates general, their number, location and the kind of work they do. I have had direct experience in this regard in respect of Ireland’s consul general in Edinburgh and the report refers to the role of such persons in other parts of the world and the work they will do. While it is correct to highlight the work of Ireland’s ambassadors and embassies and the lead role they play, the specific reference to consuls general is very welcome. The report goes on to touch on an issue referred to by both Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan and Olivia Mitchell, that is, the need to continue to emphasise the role of human rights as a vital strand in Ireland’s foreign policy, as well as the need for both of these themes to coexist, as they must and can do.
That leads me to some of the points made in this debate thus far. Having read the report, three observations that I wish to emphasise struck me. The first is that it makes the point that Ireland has deepened and strengthened integration between its embassies, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and State agencies. In my work abroad I witness this regularly. I have seen it in Poland and Belgium in the past two or three weeks. However, one should not take what we have as a given. One should always be open to evaluating it to ascertain how it can be strengthened. In particular, I note that Deputy Brendan Smith made the point that the Ireland House concept was not new. He is correct in that regard. During my time in my current role I have seen how the concept has been deployed in more places and how the Government seeks to make such collaboration more successful. I saw such an example recently at the Irish Embassy in Warsaw, where all of the State agencies and the embassy were literally right beside one another, using the same facilities and meeting rooms and working together in such an integrated fashion.
The second point I wish to emphasise pertains to the work being done within the European Union, in particular. The Government must continue to be aware that as important and vital are the strong multilateral relations Ireland has with countries or, in other words, the relationships it has with countries through bodies such as the European Union, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, they must never be a substitute for strong bilateral relations with these countries. That is the reason Ireland’s embassies are so important, even though I meet representatives of the other 27 member states of the European Union virtually everything third week in the different bodies of which I am a member. These relations can only reach the levels the Government seeks to have them reach for the benefit of the people of Ireland if such meetings are accompanied by continued contact between the two countries in question at ministerial level and through the embassies. This is a theme of which the Government has been aware in its foreign and European policy in recent years and it should not be lost sight of.
My final observation in response to the report is that, as the Tánaiste said, it makes reference to Ireland’s opening up of new embassies and new consulates general, which is to be welcomed, as other European Union countries are closing them. However, it is necessary to put this in context. The Government should always consider the likely sources of political and economic gravity in the coming years and ask itself whether it will be well placed to represent itself and the country in the world of 20 and 30 years. It should then consider how to go about planning to do this. While progress has been made in that respect in recent years, the Government must continue to do this.
In response to some specific points made in the debate, I agree with Deputy Brendan Smith on the value of the Ireland House concept and the practical benefits it can bring. While I have touched on some of the points made by Deputy Seán Crowe in his contribution, I wish to say what I thought was of particular interest because it is the first time I have heard a member of Sinn Féin say it. He was speaking about the referendum in the United Kingdom and how important he believed it to be that the United Kingdom should remain within the European Union. What I find striking about this is that this is the European Union that constitutes all of the treaties against which Sinn Féin has campaigned in the Republic of Ireland. In other words, the Deputy is looking for the United Kingdom to remain within the European Union - as I strongly believe it should - under the auspices, for example, of the Treaty of Lisbon, the implementation of which Sinn Féin was against.
While I would love to have an opportunity to respond at another time to some of the points made by Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan because there was so much in her contribution I would like to debate, I wish to respond to one specific point. Having participated in a lot of trade promotion activity within my role, I have been struck by how nearly all of the companies represented in such activity are small to medium-sized. I can understand completely how such an image might develop, but I refer to the idea that the economy is divided into large companies that are exporting and others that are small and which do not. In my personal experience I have found that the companies that make the greatest use of such missions are actually those companies to which the Deputy refers. This point perhaps should be better articulated and more information shared in this regard. I will conclude with an example. I participated and spoke at a dinner in the Irish Embassy in London a few months ago to support Irish companies in gaining business within the United Kingdom. Virtually all of the company representatives at that dinner - approximately 150 people attended the event - were from very small Irish companies. As the Deputy noted, it would be to the Government’s benefit were it to find a way of communicating this point in order that people understood the role of such missions.
An Ceann Comhairle: Apart from Deputy Frank Feighan, also due to speak are Deputies Eric Byrne, Eoghan Murphy and Dan Neville, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello. As the Chairman, Deputy Pat Breen, is to reply, we are tight on time.
Deputy Frank Feighan: I will give up some time and speak for five minutes.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about this report and thank the Chairman of the joint committee, Deputy Pat Breen, for compiling it. I also thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, for the work he has done in recent years, effectively to raise the country’s profile and bring jobs into Ireland. Similarly, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, for his work.
The context for the report is that three years ago the country effectively fell off a cliff, both financially and because its standing in the United Kingdom, across Europe and the world was badly damaged. We took our eyes off the ball because despite having indigenous industries such as agriculture which was export led and the pharmaceutical sector, many farmers were told there was no future in farming or food production, that the real future lay in banking. One can see where that got us. Effectively, it was necessary to consider again all of the industries on which we had turned our backs. We had opted for banking and building and forgotten about small to medium-sized enterprises and the agriculture sector in an export-led economy.
The forthcoming State visit by the President to the United Kingdom will highlight how important is the role with our nearest neighbour. I have visited Australia and seen the work undertaken by the embassy there to try to link small and medium-sized enterprises with the State agencies. People think that when Ministers travel all over the world for St. Patrick’s Day, it is a junket. I am well able to afford to pay for my own holidays and if I go away for a few days, the last thing I want to do is to attend meetings.
[Deputy Frank Feighan: ] If I want food, I might go to a McDonald’s or somewhere else. I do not want to sit around. Therefore, I pay tribute to Ministers and Ministers of State travelling around the world promoting our country. It is no coincidence that foreign direct investment sustains more than 160,000 jobs in Ireland. However, we must punch above our weight and box clever. I have seen first-hand in Northern Ireland, Australia and in other countries what is happening.
The IFA and various companies say there are issues in regard to live exports. We must ensure these markets are opened up. I very much welcome that Ministers, through State agencies and Departments, have secured access to nine international markets, including China, Japan, Australia and countries in the Gulf region, which have a combined population of 1.5 billion. We must think outside the box at all times.
I also welcome the fact that in 2014 we will open eight new embassies and consulates, including in Bangkok in Thailand, Jakarta in Malaysia, Nairobi in Kenya, Zagreb in Croatia, Hong Kong, the Holy See, Austin in Texas and São Paulo in Brazil. A friend of mine, who is very highly skilled and has a wife and four children, worked for a major construction company in Ireland. However, he is now working for a construction company in Nigeria in order to support his wife and children. He is bringing his expertise to Nigeria. We all think people are coming into our country and taking our jobs, but he has gone away, bringing with him his expertise, and we need to support people like him and firms doing that, which is why I welcome the opening of these embassies and consulates.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, on the work he has done and I welcome this report.
Deputy Eric Byrne: Most of my talking is done at committee meetings, and I had not intended to make a contribution today because I am sure the Minister of State is fed up listening to me repeat myself. However, I note the contributions from speakers and I support the report, because it has been moulded by those of us on the committee. I suppose it is a bit self-congratulatory if one starts to recognise the wonderful report before Members of the House who are not on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, but I would like to think the 166 Members of the Dáil will read and absorb the report.
To my amazement, the Leader of Fianna Fáil, in a very interesting contribution on Tuesday, spoke about our committee eloquently and suggested that it was a very hard-working one but that it did not get the publicity it deserved. In a break with tradition, he went on to applaud myself, Deputy Durkan and the hard-working Fianna Fáil representative, Deputy Smith, on the work we did in tackling the Russian ambassador who attempted to exonerate his position on Ukraine. In fairness to the leader of Fianna Fáil, he recognised the contribution of the members of the committee in not being cowed or intimidated by the Russia ambassador. I thought that was noteworthy.
The more I hear in this debate on foreign affairs and trade, the more I think there seems to be a warm and almost all-party approach to the work of the committee and a recognition of the progress being made by it. I said “almost all-party” because of the Sinn Féin position as outlined by Deputy Crowe. I refer to the issue of whether we should send trade delegations to countries while condemning their human rights records. We have been to Iran and are very conscious of the human rights abuses there. We had the opportunity, through the Iranian human rights council, which is headed up by a very senior and well-known politician, to explain our feelings on public executions of gay people in gyms and the stoning to death of women allegedly engaged in adultery and so on. We had the door to a specific Minister opened to us to highlight human rights. If one was to carry the Sinn Féin position to its logical conclusion, then I think we would have to stop trading with the BRIC countries.
I spent a very productive hour and a half, as did Deputy Smith, with the representative of the international affairs section of the Chinese Communist Party. Of course people will say “Look at human rights in China and at what the Chinese are doing to the Falun Gong, the Uyghurs and others,” but, as politicians, we must be very clear with ourselves and in our policies.
We are doing much work in Uganda but it has just passed atrocious legislation criminalising homosexuality which, I think, can result in a death sentence. As politicians, how do we balance our feelings about such laws with our desire to engage in serious trade relations with countries which are not at all like ours? I think Deputy Crowe projected a sort of semi-elitism in his attitude that this is a liberal democracy and, therefore, we have all the correct attributes in respect of human rights, as though this were the perfect society. He mentioned Saudi Arabia and there is also Iran. Naturally, there are huge differences between the policies and structures in an Islamic republic and those in a liberal democracy. It is time we respected each other’s positions.
I congratulate the Saudis on the King Abdullah scholarships. Very serious academics are being sent all over the world, including to UCD, on scholarships funded by King Abdullah. I believe the king is attempting to institute reforms. When one looks at Saudi Arabia, one must look at the tribal networks, the desert tribes and the conservatism in certain districts which dominate political dialogue about Islam and Western standards.
We have huge trade links with Russia, but what sort of democracy is it, given its involvement in Crimea and Ukraine? We deal with various societies which are at various levels and stages of development. We hear the term “developing countries” all the time. Should we pull out of Uganda because of the outrageous abuse of human rights by way the legislation it has passed? I would say we should not but, in any case, we have a lot to learn and we are learning all the time. As the Ceann Comhairle is probably aware, we did not realise there were female members of the Knesset whose hands we should not shake. Culturally, I assumed that was an Islamic thing and that one did not shake the hands of certain women of the Islamic faith. However, it also applies to conservative Jewish people. We must learn about the different cultures and then develop trade links.
I would argue that there is nothing as wonderful as having large numbers of Saudi and Iranian students attending colleges and universities here, because they cannot but benefit from the cultural experiences they have. They can translate them and bring them back to their own countries.
[Deputy Eric Byrne: ] For example, I know a Saudi Arabian woman resident in Ireland who I have assisted in taking driving lessons and who has learned to drive a car. The Saudi woman I helped learn to drive will be very disappointed that she will not be allowed drive a car when she goes home. At the same time, over 60% of students in third level institutions in Iran are women. Its students are extremely bright and it is important they are exposed to new concepts. There are cultural differences with which we have to come to terms.
When the committee was visiting Iran, it was rather low of RTE to concentrate on the issue of our Iranian counterparts not shaking hands with female members of our delegation. What kind of position is that from an interviewer in RTE who sees the development of links between Ireland depending on shaking hands? We are a multicultural society and it is time RTE caught up with that fact.
I compliment the committee chairman, Deputy Pat Breen, on developing a procedure in which we can examine long-standing conflicts in the world. He has taken the decision to engage with the Cypriots, members of the European Union, to address the long-standing division of the island of Cyprus between the north with the Turks and the south with the Greeks. It was important for the committee to debate this matter in-depth with a view to understanding the conflict and using our good offices to assist the talks process that might bring about the island’s reunification.
I congratulate the chairman for addressing another similar long-standing dispute in the Tindouf province in the Western Sahara, one that has gone on for over 40 years like Cyprus. The committee has all the time been lobbied by the Moroccans, the Algerians and the Polisario Front on this matter and we tended to refer them to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The chairman will now allow the committee to undertake an in-depth analysis of this conflict which might lead us to discover that the Department’s policy, decided 40 years ago, has outlived its position. Such an examination may allow us to offer our services to the Algerians and other parties involved and to intervene in creating better conditions for those unfortunates stuck in Tindouf. If one knew its conditions, one would not like to spend a night there, let alone 40 years.
I congratulate the chairman on the work he has done so far with the committee.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I congratulate the committee on the work it has done, as well as the Government and our diplomatic service, in restoring our reputation abroad. I used to work abroad and there were several low points concerning our reputation over the past several years before I was elected to this House. I have learned from my contacts abroad that this has changed for the good.
This is an excellent and welcome report. However, we have to be careful that we do not open ourselves to accusations of hypocrisy on the point of which states we trade with. We have abused human rights ourselves in the past. There are those who claim we are still abusing them, whether it is regarding the issue of a woman diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality not being allowed to have a termination or how we treat asylum seekers in direct provision. We must be careful when we speak about other countries and their human rights records that we do not come in on our high horse.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell is correct that trade opens up countries. There is a long history in international relations of countries using soft power, namely their economic power, to bring influence and change attitudes in other countries. Our diplomats and the Government in its trade missions are good at this aspect of diplomacy.
The report highlights the work done by our diplomatic corps in rebuilding our economy and opening up new trade links. However, we should not reduce the work of our ambassadors and staff just to dealing with trade promotion and issues. One cannot quantify what it means to a citizen distressed abroad when an embassy comes to his or her aid. One cannot quantify what it feels like when a giant shamrock is projected on the Burj Al Arab in Dubai on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Royal Irish Academy is holding a conference on disarmament issues, one on which Ireland has been to forefront. One cannot quantify the importance of Ireland’s initiative in the 1950s and 1960s in developing the non-proliferation treaty and what it means to the world today. I accept the report does not try to elevate trade over other aspects of foreign affairs policy. It is important, however, to marry our foreign and domestic policy, particularly when it comes to financial investments. Disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons are incredibly important. That and peacekeeping were our two pillars when we first entered the United Nations. Today, however, the State invests in companies which produce nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles through the National Pensions Reserve Fund with funds of up to €10 million. While it is not a huge amount, it is significant because it is completely at odds with our foreign policy and our reputation in the area of non-proliferation. As we move to establish a new strategic State investment fund, we should divest from these companies to ensure we have an ethical investment policy that matches our foreign policy aims. It is important we speak on these issues and others, including human rights, but do not open ourselves to accusations of hypocrisy on how we spend our State moneys.
Deputy Dan Neville: I recognise the work the committee chairman, Deputy Breen, has done and the amount of time he puts into his role. It is one of the more demanding chairmanships which just does not involve a weekly meeting or two but also involves meeting various foreign delegations and travelling to various conferences around the world. Maybe we should help him out a bit more in his constituency.
Deputy Pat Breen: I am more in my constituency than the Deputy thinks.
Deputy Eric Byrne: Deputy Michael McNamara is taking care of it.
Deputy Dan Neville: The mission of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is to promote and protect the value, interests and economic well-being of Ireland abroad. It works towards the strategic goal of using its full resources at its headquarters and across its embassy network to promote Ireland’s economic and trading interests, cultural profile and international reputation. The work of our embassies and diplomatic corps is not recognised as much as it should be. While many in the Civil Service see it as a glamorous posting, it can be a day-to-day hard grind dealing with, for example, our European affairs in trying to solve our economic problems. Their role needs to be recognised in promoting trade and good will for the State. Economic diplomacy has long been an important aspect of the Department’s work and its embassy network. Embassies and consulates work to support the development of Ireland’s exports, attract foreign direct investment, promote Ireland as a tourism destination and enhance its profile and reputation.
[Deputy Dan Neville: ] While we have recognised the embassies, we should recognise the work done by the consulates, much of which is voluntary, is also extremely important. On various trips abroad we have seen the excellent work being done by the consulate service and should recognise that most of it is done on a voluntary basis.
The central role of economic diplomacy in the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was recognised explicitly in 2011 when responsibility for certain trade promotion functions was transferred to the Department from the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. This was a new departure for the State in terms of the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We must recognise how successful this move has been and the opportunities it presents for the future.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe Costello): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about the report on the contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to economic recovery. I congratulate the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Pat Breen, and all members of the committee on producing a very fine report. It is important that reports of this nature produced by hard-working committees which have worked on them week after week and month after month, which have met delegations and travelled abroad are dealt with in plenary session in the Dáil. We should see more work of this nature as often the public never has the benefit of seeing the great work done by committees.
I am extremely disappointed that there has been no contribution to the debate from People before Profit, the Socialist Party or many of the Independents. They were very vocal in our earlier debate on Seanad reform but on this issue which is central to the well-being of the State, they are silent. It was only through our international trade that the reputation of the country was rebuilt. In the dark days when there was reduced domestic consumer consumption, we were able to sell our goods abroad and diversify our markets. They should remember that approximately 85% to 90% of everything we produce is sold in international markets. This is a huge issue for debate, yet those who are so vocal on all sorts of other issues are not prepared to come into the House and express an opinion on the importance of the work being done in the recovery of the economy. I firmly believe that without the strength and robustness of our engagement in international trade, without this boost and the record numbers of trade missions abroad led by Ministers, we could not have managed to walk the tightrope to keep the country afloat. We have had an annual increase in international trade of 6% every year until this year when, unfortunately, the patent cliff affected trade figures. Nevertheless, jobs have been maintained at a high level. I pay tribute to all those involved in the good work done in this regard and deplore the fact that the purveyors of negativity on the other side of the House have not seen fit to come into the Chamber to even give an opinion on all of the good work that has been done.
Deputies Eric Byrne and Eoghan Murphy have responded admirably to the issues raised by Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan. I compliment the good work she is doing on the committee, particularly on development issues and the interaction between trade and human rights. I will not go into that issue now but will come back to it on another occasion. However, every country with which we trade is a signatory to the United Nations Charter on Human Rights and has signed up to most of the conventions in place. We have not signed up to all of them either, as we have yet to deal with the convention on people with disabilities.
I have asked the expert advisory committee, chaired by Mrs. Nora Owen, to visit my Department to examine the interchange and interface between trade and development and between aid and trade. The committee is engaged in an exercise and has visited the United Kingdom to see how the Department for International Development deals with the matter. It has also visited Sierra Leone and will visit South Africa before producing a report which will be made available at the Irish Economic Forum in the autumn when there will be a module on how we deal with the relationship between aid and trade. This is an important issue and everybody knows that trade alone will not bring prosperity or economic development. We must examine how we engage with the private and corporate sectors and how this issue will feed into the post-2015 millennium development goals. The committee will produce recommendations which will mark the first time something of this nature will have been done.
As Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development, I have been closely involved in the work done by the Department in leading and co-ordinating efforts across government to promote trade and investment. I have seen the results of these efforts and the work done by our embassy network across the globe. Our embassies and consulates play a fundamental role in working to advance Ireland’s economic interests in overseas markets, in providing a platform for the work of the State agencies and in supporting Irish enterprises seeking to expand their business overseas. The decision taken by the Government in January to expand Ireland’s embassy network, opening new diplomatic missions in key markets across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, was a very welcome step in ensuring Ireland was equipped to take advantage of new economic opportunities in the years ahead. The global economy is evolving rapidly and it is in Ireland’s vital national interests that we put in place solid foundations to support growing trade and investment links with emerging economies and new centres of international business, while maintaining a balance in our focus on key existing markets.
In 2013 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade increased its efforts to strengthen links with emerging economies. With the embassy network, it supported no fewer than six high level visits to China, including the largest ever tourism sales mission to that country, an investment-focused trade mission to India and a major push to attract international scholarship students from Brazil which resulted in ten times more Brazilian students coming to Ireland in 2013 than in 2010. The Brazilian Minister for Education and I signed a memorandum of understanding in 2012, providing for 5,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from Brazil to study in Ireland. People in Dublin will now notice these students arriving. They are also attending universities and institutes of technology throughout the country.
In November I led a major trade mission to South Africa and Nigeria, two of the key emerging markets in Africa. The mission which was supported by our embassies in Pretoria and Abuja involved 37 Irish companies and secured new contracts worth €7 million and resulted in significant business alliances. The trade mission to Nigeria was the first such mission ever to west Africa and another will follow in the autumn. In South Africa I had the privilege of pulling the switch to turn Table Mountain, an iconic landmark in Cape Town, green on St. Patrick’s Day. It was part of the wonderful branding work Tourism Ireland was doing to promote Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day throughout the world. As I was pulling the switch in Cape Town, somebody else was doing so in Egypt to turn the pyramids green, which meant we witnessed the greening of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo.
The importance of a strengthened focus on emerging markets was clearly recognised in the review of the Government’s strategy for trade, tourism and investment, led by the trade and promotion division of the Department in recent months.
[Deputy Joe Costello: ] The outcome of the review, presented to the Export Trade Council on 6 February this year, had a number of major elements. Among these was the inclusion for the first time of a 2015 target of €900 million for the direct contribution of the international education sector to the Irish economy - this will certainly increase dramatically in the years to come - and also the maintenance of existing targets for the creation of 150,000 new jobs directly associated with exporting enterprises, a 33% increase in exports by State-agency-assisted companies and 780 new inward investment projects through IDA Ireland by the end of 2015. It is an enormously ambitious programme on international trade and investment.
A key element of the review outcome was the formulation of a new market approach which disaggregates the list of our priority markets and includes additional high-potential and exploratory markets, to ensure that Ireland engages effectively with high-growth markets in Asia, South America and Africa without lessening our focus on vital markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. The review identified an additional seven exploratory high-potential markets - Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and Chile - for particular focus in our trade, tourism and investment promotion efforts.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am afraid I have to—–
Deputy Joe Costello: In conclusion, there is a huge amount that could be said. I did not get around to talking about the Africa strategy and the work that is being done in that respect.
The work that has been carried out on the international front on international trade and investment has been tremendous and I compliment the Department and all the officials who have been involved in it, and all the staff in the embassies abroad who have turned our embassies into engine rooms of trade and economic activity, as well as the other diplomatic work they do. I compliment the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and its Chairman and members on the excellent work they have done in producing this report.
Deputy Pat Breen: I thank all those who contributed to today’s debate. It was interesting to hear all the contributions because everybody was speaking with the one voice. I particularly thank the three Ministers. It is not often one gets three Ministers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade here on a Friday afternoon, because foreign affairs takes one abroad. I note the heavy schedule of the three Ministers - the Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State with responsibility for trade, Deputy Costello - in their work and I am delighted that they are here.
The fact that the debate has gone right up to 2 o’clock shows the interest in the report among the various committee members and also those non-members of the committee who attended the debate this afternoon. I particularly thank those who contributed to the report, not only the Teachtaí Dála but also the Seanadóirí. The committee is a very good one. It is a focused committee with an attendance of at least ten to 15 members at every meeting. I also thank those in the secretariat, without whom we could not have put this report together. They assist us with meetings and our visits abroad. Throughout the time this report was being prepared, we have had a number of clerks to the committee, including the present clerk, Mr. Brian Hickey. I also thank our policy advisers. I thank the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and his staff and also the Secretary General of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Trade, the various groups the committee met in preparing this report, and the committee members for asking pertinent questions which were of assistance in preparing the report.
The contributions this afternoon were constructive. It was interesting to hear highlighted in the Tánaiste’s report the various engagements of the embassies abroad over the past 12 months. They supported 136 high-level visits across 52 countries, undertook 730 engagements in 2013, including 660 specific engagements to promote Ireland’s economic position, and engaged with 1,150 representatives of the international media, and speeches and public presentations by embassy staff promoted Ireland’s interests directly to an audience of nearly 1 million people. That in itself speaks volumes about the work done by the Department on Ireland’s economic recovery. That is why this report has been important. I am delighted to see that the Department supported all of the suggestions we put into this report.
Deputy Smith spoke about the Ireland House concept. We have seen how important the Ireland House concept is, especially in New York. I pay tribute to the consul general, Mr. Noel Kilkenny, and his team, who do fantastic work there because all the agencies work together on one floor of Ireland House. The same can be said of Tokyo, as well as various other cities throughout the world. Because our network is so small, we and our agencies all need to work together to ensure we get the best for Ireland. One is competing with countries such as Denmark, with a similar population to Ireland, which has a considerable network and many staff working in its embassies. The Danes have special trade units. They have specialists dealing with all foreign agencies and with foreign companies. Our embassies are small but they do Trojan work. I am delighted that we are extending them into areas in Asia such as Jakarta and Bangkok, and I hope we will do so in the Philippines as well. I note the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, has just come back from the Philippines, where he has not only seen the devastation caused by last year’s typhoon but also done some work on trade. It is extremely important to have those embassies working so closely together with all our agencies abroad.
St. Patrick’s Day was highlighted by all who spoke this afternoon. I visited Washington and New York with the Taoiseach for St. Patrick’s Day. We had a lot of meetings in places such as Capitol Hill, particularly on immigration reform, which in itself has much to do with trade, but we also met the US Chamber of Commerce, where the Taoiseach had access to top industrialists and others all over the United States. That important access is something one would never get anywhere else and that no other country can get, as is the access to the White House.
In addition, other Ministers, 27 of them, were all over the world promoting Ireland. That was evident in the tweets. Some Ministers are good at tweeting their schedule and, as the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, stated, the greening of Africa. I wanted to focus on that as well.
Some Members referred to the Taoiseach’s visit to the Middle East after Christmas and mentioned that when we were in Iran the issue of human rights was not raised. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, were visiting those countries on an important trade mission. They were invited by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to promote Ireland and trade. We have various agencies that can raise trade and human rights. The committee is strong on human rights. As Deputies Eric Byrne and Maureen O’Sullivan stated, we raised those issues, but our visit to Iran was a bilateral parliamentary visit and we were able to do those things. Ireland is a member of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and these issues of human rights are raised constantly by our ambassadors at the Human Rights Council. Deputy Eric Byrne referred to China. If we were not doing business with China, with which there is €8 billion worth of trade, and various other countries as well, we would be isolated. There is a balance to be struck. The countries are aware that we have to raise those issues, and we will raise them, as we have done in the past, at the correct forum.
The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, did not mention the Africa strategy, but I read his speech. He has done fantastic work in trade and aid. Africa’s economies are growing and improving, and we need to focus in on it. Although Ireland does not link aid and trade, there is a benefit for Ireland in focusing in on trade with African countries because of the high regard in which Irish Aid and Ministers are held abroad. We have, as Deputy Costello’s speech states, ten embassies on the African continent and they all have a mandate to promote trade, as well as their development work.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell, in her contribution, referred to Nigeria. I note that the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, has visited Nigeria.
[Deputy Pat Breen: ] There is great potential for Ireland there, and there is great potential in Iran, given that there are significant resources there. I hope we will open an embassy there when circumstances permit.
I admired the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Donohoe. He looked back at the archives in his document on Irish foreign policy. He has done some great work in his short time in the Department. Like me, he has been away a lot. It is good to have three Members from Dublin Central here in the Chamber all working closely together. We appreciate the work the Minister of State has done on that. My time is nearly up—–
An Ceann Comhairle: It is up, actually.
Deputy Pat Breen: I could go on and on, as the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, said—–
An Ceann Comhairle: I am well aware of the fact that you could go on and on. That is not to say you may.
Deputy Pat Breen: Parliamentary level is extremely important to trade promotion and the work we do. I am delighted there has been so much interest in this report today, with a full house. I thank all Members for their contributions and we look forward to working closely with the Department and producing various other reports in the coming year.
An Ceann Comhairle: I thank the Chairman of the committee and its members for the work they are doing. It was very worthwhile for this report to come to the main Chamber for discussion and debate and not be hidden away gathering dust. I am very pleased with this development and the interest that has been shown in the report.