Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence Dáil Debate: Report on ‘Review of the Irish Aid Programme’ Introductory Statement by Committee Chair, Brendan Smith TD

IMG_3875Ceann Comhairle, I would like to thank the Minister and Members in the Chamber for their attendance here this afternoon to discuss this important report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence on the Irish Aid programme.

 

It is my honour to introduce this report in the Chamber today.

 

I would like to acknowledge our guests in the Visitors Gallery. They include representatives from a number development NGOs and the umbrella organization, Dóchas. You are all warmly welcome.

 

This report is the culmination of several months of constructive engagement and debate within the Committee on the Irish Aid programme.

 

During those months the Committee met with a wide range of stakeholders, including Minister of State Cannon and senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; representatives from the NGO sector; members of academia; the Ambassadors of Ethiopia and Kenya in Ireland; and Mr. David Donoghue, Ireland’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and co-facilitator of the process to negotiate the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Members of the Committee also visited Malawi and Mozambique to see at first hand the implementation of the Irish Aid programme and to meet partners and stakeholders at government, civil society, community and individual level.

 

In addition to the seven public sessions we held on this subject, the Committee received over thirty written submissions from stakeholders. The level of interest and engagement in this important topic was greatly appreciated and I would like to acknowledge and thank all those who engaged so constructively.

 

It is clear such interest reflects the importance so many stakeholders place on ensuring Ireland has the strongest and most effective aid programme possible.

 

Ceann Comhairle, Minister, Members, this debate is timely.

 

It has been several years since Ireland’s official development assistance – or ODA – programme was last discussed and debated in this Chamber.

 

It is important to emphasise at the outset of this debate that the Committee strongly supports the Irish Aid programme. Throughout our meetings we heard an overwhelmingly positive assessment of the Irish Aid programme and the delivery of overseas assistance by our NGOs. The high quality of the programme and its strong focus on poverty reduction was emphasised time and again. Ireland has a good story to tell.

 

Huge advances have been made as a result of ODA, including Ireland’s aid programme, as well as through the development assistance programmes of the European Union, which Ireland contributes to.

 

Aid works.

 

As a result of aid:

 

  • Over 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty;
  • The under 5 child mortality rate has almost halved;
  • Devastating diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis have been controlled;
  • There has been huge progress in fighting HIV and AIDs and malaria;
  • 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved water sources
  • Education subsidies, social cash transfers, schemes addressing water provision and quality, have all had far reaching positive impacts on the lives of people most in need.We in Ireland can and should take considerable pride in the role our aid programme has played in contributing to these long term results.

 

Indeed I had the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the effectiveness of the aid programme during the Committee’s visit to Malawi and northern Mozambique last November. The visit highlighted the life-changing impact Irish taxpayers’ money is having on some of the poorest people in the world. It demonstrated to me that results are being achieved through the implementation of a broad range of programmes, working hand in hand in a spirit of partnership with local communities and authorities.

 

But the visit also highlighted to me the extent of need that continues to exist and the obligation we all have, at national, European and international level to respond to that need.

The scale of need that exists today is more significant than ever with:

 

  • 140 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
  • 65 million people – over 10 times the population of this country – displaced by war and conflict.
  • Over 3 million children under 5 dying each year due to preventable and treatable diseases.
  • Over 260 million children not receiving an education.
  • Rapid population growth with the population on the African continent expected to double by 2050 to 2.5 billion people.
  • In Syria alone, the latest figures by UNHCR show there are over 13 million in need of humanitarian assistance, over 6 million internally displaced from their homes and now 5.6 million refugees forced to flee. 2.6 million of those are children. A quarter of all Syrians are refugees. The official death toll is unknown but is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.These shocking figures are an important reminder of the current context in which Ireland’s aid programme must be effectively implemented. Behind each figure are countless individuals in need of assistance.Minister, I understand you are planning to produce a new White Paper on the Irish Aid programme in the coming months. I welcome that commitment and trust that the views raised in the Committee’s report and during today’s debate will be carefully considered and taken into account. As a Member of this House, and, along with my Committee colleagues and indeed other Members present here today who are all representing constituencies with a great many needs throughout the country, I do not shy away from acknowledging the competing demands on taxpayers’ money. Our domestic challenges must be addressed, and addressed urgently.However, we cannot and must not neglect our moral responsibility to play our part, as a developed nation, in addressing the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people and communities around the world. The Committee fully supports continued increases in the aid budget to meet that need in a targeted, effective way, maintaining the high standards and quality in the aid programme that Ireland has been internationally recognised for.Doing so is not just the right thing to do. It is also in our national interest. We are living in a deeply interconnected world. Playing our part in lifting people out of extreme poverty and deprivation, addressing the root causes of conflict and instability, will lead to greater peace and security for all.

 

The challenge for the Government now is to identify how to protect and build upon the high quality of the aid programme, at a time when global challenges are intensifying in areas such as climate change, in rising inequalities and population growth, in growing migration flows throughout the world, in politically isolationist trends in the west, and not least in humanitarian crises.

 

This report contains 22 recommendations. I will not go into the detail of each of these.

 

Instead I will focus on three areas:

 

    • firstly the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for a more coherent approach to development assistance;
    • secondly the need to build greater awareness of Official Development Assistance among the public;
  • and thirdly the need to demonstrate a concerted move towards realising Ireland’s long standing commitment of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance.   

 

  • Ireland can take considerable pride in the Sustainable Development Goals, brokered in 2015 by our former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, David Donoghue. The 17 Goals each have specific targets to be achieved by 2030. The Goals are a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They apply to all countries throughout the world.
  • Sustainable Development Goals and Policy Coherence for Development
  •  

We are proud that those Goals were brokered by Ireland but now we must focus on implementation and ensure that Ireland continues to be at the forefront at both national and international levels. This must be a whole of Government endeavour.

 

As I have just outlined development assistance has yielded many significant results. But aid alone is not enough. That much is clear when we look at the current global crises I have already referred to.

 

 

Ireland’s policies across a wide range of areas can potentially have an effect on developing countries and can consequently make our aid less impactful. This is an issue in the area of trade, environment and climate, agriculture, education, immigration and tax policy among others. The Sustainable Development Goals recognise this need for coherence across all policies.

 

Earlier this week our President made a historic address to the United Nations General Assembly focusing on peacebuilding. In his speech he reminded UN Member States of the necessity of a coherent approach if we are to accomplish the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, stating that When we work coherently across the pillars of peace and security, human rights, and development, real, sustained and measurable progress is possible.”

 

Coherence in essential if we are to achieve meaningful impact. The OECD also noted in 2014 that Ireland needed to address such issues and develop a more coherent approach to development across Government.

 

Regrettably that has not happened.

 

In this report the Committee calls on the Government to develop a clear cross- Government plan of action on international development policy as well as to establish a cross-Departmental body to ensure better coordination and coherence. This could be a sub-group of the existing cross- departmental coordination mechanisms on the Sustainable Development Goals. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views.

 

 

I know that this afternoon Minister Naughten is launching Ireland’s National Implementation Plan for the Sustainable Development Goals. I look forward to reading the Plan.

The Committee will continue to closely scrutinise the progress being made in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly through the work of Irish Aid.

The new White Paper will be an opportunity to ensure that the Irish Aid programme is clearly framed in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Development Education and Communicating the Irish Aid Programme

A strong case for the importance of strengthening our aid programme also needs to be made to the Irish public.

This report contains important recommendations on scaling up resources and commitments to the education and youth sectors, supporting the essential work they carry out in providing development education.

 

It is so important that the taxpayers of the future have awareness, understanding and ownership of the Irish Aid programme.

 

The Government must also communicate better the results of the Irish Aid programme to all citizens more generally.

 

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that taxpayers are aware of how their money is being spent and moreover, why it is being spent in the way that it is being spent.

 

This is not just the Government’s aid programme; it belongs to the Irish people and their understanding of it is vital.

 

 

0.7% of GNI on Official Development Assistance

 

On reaching our now very long standing commitment of achieving ODA expenditure of 0.7% of Gross National Income – the Committee is unanimously of the view that in order for Ireland to continue to deliver and strengthen a quality aid programme, we must reach that target.

 

The Committee calls for a multiannual plan to increase the aid budget on an incremental, phased basis and proposes that the Government submits such a clear, multiannual plan to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight for consideration.

 

Minister, you have spoken many times since taking on your current role of your commitment to working towards the 0.7% target.

 

As we debate this matter here today, and as Members of this House engage with you on this hugely important subject, I would ask you to clearly outline your vision.

 

The aid programme has strong political support. You have the support of those of all parties and none represented on the Committee. And I have no doubt many more members of this House support the Irish Aid programme and the need to move steadily towards 0.7%.

 

The aid programme also has strong public support. The Irish people are known for their empathy and generosity. I was heartened by the results of a poll last year which showed that 80% of those surveyed believe we should increase our support to efforts to eradicate poverty.

 

Now what remains is for the Government to take forward the commitments it has made and ensure they are delivered.

 

On behalf of the Committee, I urge you and your Government colleagues to copper fasten the commitments you have already made.

 

Ceann Comhairle, Minister, Members, when it comes to the Irish Aid programme, this report highlights that we must match our reputation with resources and we must match our ambition with action.

 

In the words of Seamus Heaney:

 

“Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.”

 

This House will take the measure of what is said and what is done in relation to the Irish Aid Programme and moving towards that important 0.7% target.

 

Minister, in your remarks, I would be grateful if you could address two specific matters:

What is the timeframe for the publication of the new White Paper? I believe it should be brought forward without delay.

Secondly, will you give a clear commitment to developing a pathway to 0.7%?

 

Thank you and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s and Members’ contributions in relation to this important report.

 

 

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