Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern, TD, on the 2005 Estimates,Dáil Éireann, 25 November, 2004 Part II
I would like to take this opportunity, nonetheless, to note that the resources allocated to my Department was money well spent. The success of our Presidency has been recognised across the political spectrum in Ireland and we have received huge praise abroad for our achievements. Value for money is, and must remain, the main criterion for evaluating how the taxpayer’s money is spent. I think it is recognised that, in particular during the Presidency, very great value for money was achieved for this country.
Looking now at the allocations for 2005, I am absolutely delighted that we will more than double our funding for emigrant services. In fact, we are increasing the allocation in 2005 by over one hundred per cent.
This increase will bring the total amount allocated for emigrants in 2005 to €8.2 million. In addition, my Department has been able to provide already this year an extra €1 million in recent months from savings found elsewhere in the budget.
These substantial and increased allocations – which have been warmly welcomed by those providing emigrant services – reflect in the clearest possible way the strength of the Government’s commitment to our emigrant communities. This commitment is both immediate and long-term. The figure will be built up on progressively over the coming years.
Overall, funding to Emigrant Services has grown by 850 per cent since 1997, since this Government came to office.
This very substantial increase has been warmly welcomed by both the Director of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, and the Director of the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain – the latter described the increased figure as “an incredible boost for the Irish community in Britain”. He went on to say that he knew “how much of an impact this will make to those organisations working with and on behalf of Irish people living in Britain”. I am delighted that our increased support has been recognised in such a positive way by the key people on the front-line.
We remain committed to addressing the needs of the Irish Abroad and particularly those who are marginalised or at greatest risk of exclusion. The bulk of the money will be allocated to organisations helping vulnerable and marginalised emigrants in Britain. I also intend to increase significantly the funding available in the United States and the rest of the world.
A dedicated Irish Abroad Unit was established this year in the Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate the provision of assistance to emigrants. The staffing cost of the Unit is carried by the Department of Foreign Affairs and not by the allocation to emigrants. The Unit is working very closely with the agencies which provide front-line services to assist, in particular, our vulnerable and elderly emigrants.
The third of my key objectives for 2005 was to ensure the continued development of our passport and visa services. Before the end of this year we will produce a new machine readable passport capable of incorporating biometric information. The allocation for next year – some €19 million – is aimed at completing the project.
The new passport will be produced using the latest technologies. It will be one of the most secure passports in the world. This will enable us to meet the highest international standard for travel documentation and make travel easier for our citizens.
I have secured, also, an additional €4 million to develop our visa system to the highest international standards. For our growing economy we need a visa system which is efficient, effective and secure and which uses the latest technology available. This allocation will ensure that we can do this.
Underpinning the development of the new passport and visa services will be the continued upgrading of our telecommunications links. We will continue to invest in new technology to provide a state of the art passport and visa service. We will also deliver value for money by reducing costs in areas such as international telephone charges.
In addition to these three key priorities for 2005 there are a number of other priorities for my Department which are reflected in the 2005 estimates.
One of these will be to ensure that there is sufficient information available on the European Constitution. Now that the European Constitution has been signed, the ratification process in the Member States can begin. Indeed, Lithuania completed its national ratification procedures already this month.
Of course, like many other Member States, we will hold a referendum in Ireland to amend the Constitution of Ireland to enable ratification of the European Constitution. In preparation for this I have made provision in next year’s budget of €150,000 for information material on the European Constitution. While no decision has been made on when a referendum will be held, we expect to publish a White Paper and possibly other information materials in 2005.
I would also like to note that there is in this year’s estimates provision for a first time contribution to the European Investment Bank Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership Trust Fund. Ireland will contribute €250,000 in 2005, or €1 million over four years, to help the Mediterranean Partner Countries meet the challenges of modernisation and integration. This partnership – also known as the Barcelona Process – aims to create a free-trade area between Europe and the Mediterranean Partner Countries by 2010.
While I have focussed on new or additional allocations it is the case that a very large proportion of Vote 28 is ongoing administrative costs. This reflects the cost of maintaining some 66 offices abroad. These offices coordinate our bilateral relations with other states and our relations with multilateral organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations. They give a service to Irish citizens abroad, both those who are resident and those travelling.
Due to the very significant increase in the numbers of Irish people travelling abroad for business or leisure, the work of our Missions has assumed increased importance. The role of our overseas Missions in supporting the efforts of Irish business abroad has increased in importance also. Our representatives abroad are playing an increasingly active role in this regard and it is my firm intention that activity in this area should be expanded. It is entirely appropriate that the resources of the Government’s Offices abroad should be engaged in adding value to our economic development at home.
With a view to delivering this added value, I propose to go to Government in the near future with proposals for extending our range of diplomatic missions. My priority is to open missions especially in the new Member States of the European Union, where we have not yet established an Embassy, and also in Bulgaria and Romania.
My Department will continue its work in critical areas including • implementing the Good Friday Agreement; • promoting and protecting Ireland’s interests in the European Union and in the United Nations; • promoting Ireland’s trade, investment and culture; • contributing to lasting poverty reduction in the developing world, and • protecting the interests of Irish citizens abroad. I am glad to say that the Estimates allocation for my Department in 2005 will enhance the achievement of all these objectives.
Ends 25 November 2004 Top