Dáil Éireann - Volume 586 - 27 May, 2004

International Development Association (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

[947] Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I wish to share time with Deputy Sargent.

The point I was making before the debate on the Bill adjourned was that Ireland is the fourth wealthiest nation in the world. We have a responsibility and a duty to ensure we set a standard and, at the very least, that we achieve the target set by the UN of 0.7% of GDP in terms of development aid. We are not meeting that target or setting an example, which is a pity especially this year when we had the opportunity with the EU Presidency to set that example. Other countries in the EU have met and exceeded that target. We need to do so but, at the very least, we should achieve the target set by Dóchas and Development Co-operation Ireland. We call on the Government to end its totally unjustifiable three year freeze on overseas development aid spending levels and to immediately start to implement targets which have been agreed and which it stated it would achieve by 2007. We need a renewed commitment to achieve that target.

We live in a world in which 50 countries are poorer now than they were in 1990. That is an indictment of the western world in particular. We live in a world in which an elite few have more money than they can possibly spend in a lifetime, yet one in five people survive rather than live on less than €1 a day. In 20 countries, more than one person in four goes hungry, that is, one quarter of the population. In 700 other countries, one quarter of children do not live beyond the age of five. In nine countries in this small world, one person in four still does not have access to safe water.

It would cost $100 billion to cut global poverty by half by 2015, the same amount spent by the United States on its war in Iraq. The war in Iraq is not over and the United States will continue to spend and waste more money instead of targeting global poverty. In 2002, indebted countries made a net transfer of twice that amount in payments to the wealthy nations. At present states spend only half the needed amount on development aid, preferring to lavish $800 billion a year building and deploying their armies. That is a scandalous figure. In the modern western world, building and deploying armies around the world is more important than tackling poverty. Four years into the new millennium, military spending continues to dwarf spending on development aid at a global level and in the EU. Even in this State, whose Government prides itself on being a leading donor country, our military spending is increasing.

With the so-called “war on terror” and the plan to build an EU army, starting with a common armaments policy, we are pushing ever further in [948] that warped direction. We believe that the international community must get its priorities right. Up to now, it has got them dead wrong. What must guide international relations policy in the future united Ireland is the objective of achieving human security. That human security concept recognises that the most deadly weapons of mass destruction are hunger, poverty, disease, death, inequality, dependence, dominance, exploitation, dictatorship, state clientelism, torture, abuse and other systematic sources of suffering. Those are the real threats and sources of insecurity for the vast majority on the planet.

That is why we assert that the fulfilment of the UN millennium development goals, which aim to cut global poverty by half by 2015, should be elevated to a top international spending and policy priority. Their achievement will contribute more to global security than the so-called “war on terror” that is cannibalising budgets and resources internationally. We have long known the steps required. Now we have the millennium development goals, a set of eight concrete steps, shared goals and matching targets which we believe chart out our future progress and commitment. We must reach and exceed those goals.

I urge that, in the short time left of Ireland’s EU Presidency, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for overseas development and human rights, Deputy Kitt, should report to this House and debate this State’s implementation of the Barcelona commitments and the Government’s plan to play its part in achieving the millennium development goals. Government time must also periodically be made available to allow Ministers to report to the full House on what is being done in the name of the Irish people at other international fora and financial institutions such as the World Trade Organisation. I ask the Minister to respond to that and I hope that we will have more regular debates on whether we are achieving those goals.

  Mr. Sargent: Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Teachta Ó Snodaigh as a chuid ama a roinnt liom. Tá sé an-suimiúil go bhfuil an Bille um Chomhlachas Forbartha Idirnáisiúnta (Leasú) 2003 ag féachaint ar mhéid mór airgid, ach deir sé sa chur síos a d’eisigh an Roinn Airgeadais: “IDA is the “soft” loan arm of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (The World Bank).” It is important that people know the context in which this development has taken place and that, when I meet ambassadors as party leader, very often on their agenda is the wish that Ireland make it clear that it will reach the 0.7% of GNP target for overseas development aid, as it committed itself to do at the United Nations. They are not convinced, by the manner in which the Government is acting, that it will be reached. The Government must take steps to ensure that it happens and that the slippage stops.

[949] Given that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is here, it is also important to recognise that farmers in the poorest countries very often have questions similar to those of farmers in our country about the system that keeps them in poverty. Constituents of mine who are at the pin of their collar trying to make a living from farming often ask me why imports that come from half way around the world are sold far more cheaply in local shops in north County Dublin and elsewhere than their food and produce, which they grow down the road. The same question is asked by farmers in poorer countries who may be living on €1 or €2 a day. Of course, they are in even more serious trouble.

It is important to bear in mind that there is a system of corporate-led development which must be analysed. The World Bank is part of it, as is the millennium round mentioned in the briefing from the Department of Finance. It stems from the fact that the global industrial food system arose in the context of the corporate-led global economy, employing taxpayers’ money, a truth not often realised. At the behest of big business, Governments have funded many types of infrastructure that are not there to benefit the local economy, for example, motorways or even high-speed rail links on the Continent, tunnels, bridges and communications satellites. All those make it possible to sell food from the other side of the world at a lower price than local produce.

On top of that, taxpayers are subsidising aviation fuel and energy production, on which long-distance trade depends. Even the Kyoto protocol does not take into account international trade as a source of emissions. The continual expansion of that infrastructure and the resultant increased global trade leads to the breakdown of local and regional economies. That is behind much of the reason there is the poverty to which we are trying to commit €50 million, which is a drop in the ocean compared with overall needs but a great deal of money if one is in a local economy in Ireland.

Since the 1940s, international trade has dominated a growing number of national economies. In that period, world trade grew twelvefold. Imports and exports now make up a much larger proportion of economic activity than ever before. With international trade amounting to $5.5 trillion annually, that explosive increase in global trade has fed the growth of the trading bodies, that is, the transnational corporations, many of which have more economic clout than entire nations. A comparison of national GDPs with the annual revenues of transnational corporations shows that half of the hundred largest economies in the world are now such corporations.

The outline of today’s globalised economy was established at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, where western leaders met to design a new financial architecture for the post-war period to keep the growth economy alive and prevent another depression. That was to be [950] accomplished by drawing more of the world’s economies into the orbit of the consumer economy, thereby dramatically expanding the market for industrial goods while assuring unfettered access to the planet’s natural resources. With that in mind, three supranational institutions were established, the first being the World Bank, which we are discussing today. The second was the International Monetary Fund and the third was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT.

In the Bretton Woods scheme, the World Bank would provide funding for major development projects, including huge centralised energy plants, long-distance transport networks and high-speed communications systems, thereby creating the physical infrastructure required by huge trading corporations. There is nothing wrong with those projects per se, but they were not built first and foremost to bolster local economies. They have been instrumental in undermining such economies, including our own, which we are now told is the most globalised in the world.

The IMF would work to impose a standardised economic architecture, with western-style consumer growth as the foundation, on every national economy. Strict structural adjustment policies would be imposed on borrowing countries that did not adhere to that plan. GATT, meanwhile, would serve to increase every nation’s dependence on long-distance trade by keeping tariffs low, removing other perceived barriers to trade and turning ever more realms of life into globally tradable commodities. Further south — in the main, the poorer countries — that framework ushered in the era of what is often called “development”, with goals and policies that followed seamlessly from the colonial era that preceded it.

Though ostensibly more noble in its aims, the results of that framework were strikingly similar. A northern economic model based on industrial production, trade and economic growth was to be systematically imposed throughout what was known — and still is, in many cases — as the Third World. As in the colonial period, a large portion of the south’s production and resources would continue to flow northwards. In 1994 member nations of GATT created a new and powerful governing body known as the World Trade Organisation to set trade rules and settle disputes.

Countries which joined the WTO implicitly agreed to reorganise their national economies in ways that are more conducive to foreign trade and investment. This reorganisation includes the privatisation of industry and the dismantling of any social programme or labour, environmental or health regulation that could be interpreted as a non-tariff barrier to trade. We see that in this country when we try to promote reuse and recycling, for example. If it is against competition it cannot be done; we cannot reduce the waste. There are many knock-on effects. Of course, at Seattle in 1999 trade ministers were meeting to [951] negotiate rules for a new millennium round, as it was called, which would further eliminate hindrances to the speculative flow of capital and trade around the globe and place greater limitations on any government’s ability to protect its citizens and the environment.

It is not just in the case of the food economy and meeting people’s basic needs but overall that there is a particular drive afoot which will not be arrested, regardless of how many millions we put into the International Development Association, even if it is a zero interest arrangement. The pressure from the WTO to further dismantle whatever possibilities exist to develop local economies is extremely strong. From the viewpoint of conscience, whatever about policy or political choices, how is it that this country can stand over a system that impoverishes the poorest in the world and then blithely pretend we are doing fine and that we will help them as best we can? We have to realise that Irish farmers are suffering in the same way as their counterparts in the Third World because they are being forced to participate in a system which depends on long-distance transportation. Ultimately they are being made increasingly vulnerable. We should reflect on that rather than just count how much money we can afford to give this year or the next.

  Mr. Hayes: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this important Bill. The figure of €50 million is the cornerstone of the Bill. While I welcome the fact that €50 million is being given to the developing world, as we all do, it needs to be seen in the context of where we are at, particularly in this country. Some 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day. These 1.2 billion people must eke out an existence on less than the price of a newspaper. They are living, or dying, on less money than is provided to the average unit of livestock in the European Union. Those figures and facts speak for themselves. We live in a country that has grown rapidly in the last ten to 15 years. Major changes have taken place in our lifestyle. Major changes have taken place right across Europe and in every aspect of the world in which we live.

When we consider that number of people starving across the world one wonders what we have been about. I question the fact that Europe and America cannot agree on a planned and structured way to help developing countries. We can talk about war and trouble in the world, but we must tackle the problem of providing the basic food people need in their daily lives. I cannot understand why superpowers such as America and an expanding European economy cannot combine to put in place a plan that would help those people. Most people in this House will recall collecting pennies in a box each week for the people of the Third World. It was known as “the penny for the black babies”. At that stage, when we were a poor country we sent small amounts of money as children to those people in [952] the poorer world. I believe Ireland has a lead role to play when it comes to talks at EU level. The current EU Presidency gives us an opportunity to show leadership in this field. We have led in the past. Irish priests, nuns and lay missionaries have gone into various parts of the world and made their mark, in a poorer generation, one that came through hard times.

There is an onus on this generation of Irish people to show leadership in the ongoing saga of poverty in our world. It is a frightening statistic that 1.2 billion people are living on $1 a day. It is something we must keep in mind every time we debate this issue. While we welcome the €50 million, it is seen in context when compared with the amount of money we recently spent on electronic voting. We are told that €52 million is the figure this country wasted on electronic voting and we are clapping ourselves on the back for giving €50 million to the world’s poor. We must show some leadership as a country and as Europeans. We must force the agenda on the world stage and show we mean business as regards the Third World. If we do not, we will undermine our position as Europeans. People hope this country will develop and go from strength to strength yet the problems of the world’s poor continue to fester.

Deputy Richard Bruton stated on Second Stage that the Government had set itself a development aid target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. Can this be achieved? We should try to exceed that figure in every possible way as we examine budgets and wastage in our country. We would support that from this side of the House. We as parliamentarians in a country that is doing so well have a responsibility to address this problem and seek to increase the aid we give to those poor countries.

Debate adjourned.