Breen questions Overseas Aid Minister during Priority Question Time

October 13th, 2010 - Pat Breen

Priority Question Time – Foreign Affairs

Wednesday, 13th October 2010.

Overseas Development Aid

79. Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the findings of the Second Development Cooperation Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council and their emphasis on promoting policy coherence for development; the steps he will take to address Ireland’s shortcomings in this policy, as noted by the OECD Development Assistance Committee review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36174/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Peter Power): I wish Deputy Breen well in his new position and look forward to the traditional cross-party support that has characterised our aid and development programme for many years.
The global economic crisis highlights the importance of ensuring maximum coherence in the international effort to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015. The Government is strongly committed to building a coherent approach to development across all Departments and ensuring that our development policies are supported, and not undermined, by other areas of policy which affect developing countries.

We are working to ensure coherence within the Irish Aid programme, as well as coherence with our programme countries’ poverty reduction programmes. Ireland is also playing a strong role internationally in policy discussions to build the effectiveness of aid and coherence across policies affecting the poorest countries and communities in the world.

The United Nations development co-operation forum is an important body, bringing together national and local governments, parliamentarians, multilateral organisations and representatives of civil society and the private sector. The aim is to discuss trends and challenges in development and share experiences and ideas for greater coherence and effectiveness. Ireland has worked closely with the forum, with a particular emphasis on how to build accountability and transparency in development co-operation.

As the Deputy is aware, the second meeting of the forum was held in New York on 29 and 30 June. I strongly welcome the emphasis it placed on the need for coherent development programmes aligned to countries’ national development strategies. This is, in essence, the aid effectiveness agenda on which Ireland has taken an international lead and which we implement in our own programme.

The forum also noted the need for greater coherence between United Nations agencies, which has been an important Irish priority in our engagement with the UN system.

I welcome the forum’s focus on the issue of policy coherence. I also welcome the emphasis in the outcome document adopted unanimously at the MDG review summit in New York last month on the need for increased efforts to enhance policy coherence for development. Ireland played a strong role in the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the outcome document and our priorities are well reflected in it.

The development assistance committee of the OECD carried out a peer review of Ireland’s aid programme in 2009. Its findings were overwhelmingly positive. It found that Irish Aid is a strong, cutting edge development programme with a clear focus on the world’s poorest people. It stated that Ireland is a champion in making aid more effective.

The review provided a number of helpful recommendations on the further development of policy coherence for development in Ireland and it welcomed the establishment of the interdepartmental committee on development. As the chair of the committee, I am ensuring that the recommendations are being examined and followed up across Departments.

Deputy Pat Breen: I thank the Minister of State for his reply and best wishes. The issue of policy coherence for development is extremely important and I refer, for example, to the importance of a global cohesive policy in respect of trade, fishing and agriculture. I highlight this issue because both the United Nations and the European Parliament have made it a priority and, as the Minister of State noted, simply giving aid and assistance to Third World countries is not enough in this day and age. Someone recently asked me—–
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Breen to come to the question.

Deputy Pat Breen: I will. I was asked what was the reason for aid being given with one hand but taken away with the other. One of the greatest challenges we face is the issue of policy coherence for development as although we are good at protecting our own interests, we sometimes do not protect those of developing countries. I wish to praise the outstanding work carried out by Irish Aid to assist developing countries. My question pertains to the interdepartmental committee that was set up in 1997, which is chaired by the Minister of State and brings together a wealth of people with experience. I understand this committee has only met 11 times since its establishment in 1997. How many times did it meet over the last 12 months? How effective has the committee been thus far?

Deputy Peter Power: While I must get the exact number of meetings over the past 12 months for the Deputy, the committee has been working highly effectively. The idea behind the committee is to ensure, as the Deputy correctly pointed out, that Ireland does not undermine its highly effective aid programme by adopting policies across Departments that would so do, specifically in the area of trade. The World Trade Organisation Doha development round of world trade negotiations constitutes a key example in this regard.
I was part of the Irish delegation, with the Tánaiste, who was then was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which went to Geneva as part of the Irish national team that negotiated Ireland’s national position at that round. This is an example of how Ireland can put forward a unified national approach, even though some approaches and policies might be perceived to be opposed to other aspects of national policy. However, the objective is to inform one another of one’s overall national objectives and to seek, through this departmental committee, to marry them together and to put forward a cohesive and coherent national approach. I will revert to the Deputy in respect of the actual number of meetings of the committee.

Deputy Pat Breen: I understand, from the responses to a number of parliamentary questions, that this committee has only met twice over the past 12 months even though it originally was meant to meet bimonthly and then monthly. The Minister of State might establish whether this is the case. As chairman of the aforementioned committee, the Minister of State should put this issue at the top of his agenda because it is the way forward for developing countries.
My final supplementary question in this regard is to ask the reason this committee has not reported to the Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs? Although the report of the OECD development assistance committee, DAC, recommended that this committee should report to the Oireachtas, this has not been done. Therefore, the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid should make this matter a priority because Ireland does not wish to be left behind when compared with other countries. While this is separate from our own aid activity, I refer to the subject of policy coherence for development.

Deputy Peter Power: Far from being left behind on this agenda, Ireland is recognised as being a world leader in this area. Not only did the OECD DAC report to which the Deputy referred state that Ireland is a champion in making aid more effective but within the United Nations system, Ireland is perceived to be a leader in respect of establishing coherence right across UN agencies. Moreover, Ireland is the lead international donor in Tanzania and Vietnam in the delivery of UN projects and this is well recognised throughout the world. I note the committee itself is comprised of very senior officials from the respective Departments and ongoing work takes place in the background and on a monthly and quarterly basis—–
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We must make progress.

Deputy Pat Breen: Is it the Minister of State’s intention for the committee to report to the Oireachtas?
Deputy Peter Power: It does so through me. I chair the committee and then report to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. That is the manner in which the Oireachtas receives reports, as well as through parliamentary questions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The matter might be pursued by the joint committee.