IRELAND - The National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) has been called to give evidence to the Irish Parliament's joint committee on foreign affairs over Zimbabwe.

Progressio, an independent organisation for sustainable development, has also been asked to make a presentation to members of the committee later this week, following its research which suggested 3% of the NPRF's assets, at the end of 2006, were invested in at least 14 companied with operations in Zimbabwe. [See earlier article: NPRF under pressure over Zimbabwe investments]

The organisation revealed its research had been initiated at the request of a number of members of the Dáil, or parliament (TDs) who are part of European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA). They believe the best way to effect change is to look at the way private companies - and vehicles such as pension funds - invest in Zimbabwe.

Now the joint committee on foreign affairs has invited three voluntary non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Progressio, to present on both this issue and the broader political situation, while NPRF has also been called on to provide evidence regarding its investments.

Emmet Bergin, advocacy officer at Progressio Ireland, said the hearing - which will be attended by Micheál Martin, the minister for foreign affairs - would allow the committee to receive evidence from different perspectives and to understand the issues.

At which point the committee could recommend a change in legislation to allow the NPRF to disinvest from the specific companies involved, and recommend the introduction of ethical guidelines, or it could determine that no action is necessary.

Bergin said: "While the NPRF has no ethical guidelines, there is a precedent for the NPRF disinvesting, as it disinvested from cluster munitions just before the international conference on the issue was held in Dublin in May." [See earlier article: Irish effort forces NPRF to review SRI]

However, Bergin admitted that while the cluster munitions disinvestment was made without a change in the law, as it was believed there would be no objection from the Irish people, this particular issue could be seen as "less clear-cut" so the NPRF "would need a change of legislation" to allow it to disinvest.

Progressio pointed out that at the moment the NPRF has no ethical guidelines on investment. Its only requirement is to maximise returns for an acceptable level of risk, and as a result its strategy is primarily index-linked investments.

However, Bergin said some people, including some TDs, find "some of the companies the fund is investing in disturbing" and claimed that by "not taking action" on the investments in companies operating in Zimababwe, the Irish government was "in effect supporting the regime" in Zimbabwe, and called on the government and NPRF to disinvest.

Last week, the NPRF disputed the figures put forward by Progressio that it had €578m invested in companies operating in Zimbabwe, on the basis that the figures represented all the money invested in companies such as Barclays Bank and BP. [See earlier article: NPRF to raise concerns over Zimbabwe investments]

However, Bergin said the organisation "would contend that the €578m figure is actually an underestimation of investments in companies that operate in Zimbabwe or have an operating presence there".

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Nyree Stewart on + 44 (0)20 7261 4618 or email