Statement by Minister for Development, Trade Promotion and North South Co-operation, Mr Seán Sherlock TD
Launch of the 2014 DAC Peer Review
Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to be here today for the launch of the 2014 OECD Development Assistance Committee Peer Review of Ireland’s Development Cooperation programme. I want in particular to express my sincere appreciation to Erik Solheim coming to Dublin today. I thank you all for attending the launch of the Peer Review Report today.
One World, One Future
The Peer Review reaffirms the focus of Ireland’s official development assistance which is strongly concentrated on Sub-Saharan Africa and Least Developed Countries. The report notes that “81% of total bilateral aid by region went to Sub-Saharan Africa”and “52% of total aid in 2012 was allocated to Least Developed Countries, making Ireland the highest ranking DAC member against this measure.
This also represents a major investment in the policy and strategic priorities of Ireland for the delivery of a focussed, coherent and effective aid programme to the world’s poorest countries.
Ireland’s new Policy for International Development, One World, One Future, reflects our vision of a fairer global society with improved quality of life for all its citizens. This new policy provides a solid basis for maximising the effectiveness and impact of Ireland’s efforts. The work of our aid programme is in our interest as a small island member of the interconnected global community. It is also the right thing to do.
Last month, I published on our website a Framework for Action to guide the implementation of the Policy. The Framework will enable us to strengthen the effectiveness, accountability and impact of our work, to measure performance and to demonstrate accountability. A reorganisation of Irish Aid’s internal structures to give effect to the new Framework is ongoing with particular emphasis on policy development in a number of critical areas, notably inclusive economic growth, human rights and hunger, and climate change.
And we are reviewing carefully, the recommendations in the peer Review Report to assist us in continuing to improve the effectiveness of our development programme.
I have to say I was proud to read in the report the considerable praise for Ireland’s humanitarian response. The finding of the Peer Review Report highlights that on the global stage, Ireland “continues to punch above its weight on humanitarian and resilience issues”. I am proud that Ireland is one of the top 20 governments contributing to international humanitarian assistance. We have continued to support humanitarian action throughout recent difficult times.
The humanitarian crisis arising from conflict, especially in West Africa, Syria and its neighbours, South Sudan, and in other areas, demonstrate vividly how disaster derails development. The challenge is how to balance the immediate needs against the essential investments in building sustainable capacity for social services, for achieving gender equality and for investing.
I saw this first hand when I was the first European Minister to visit Sierra Leone since the onset of the Ebola crisis. I saw it also when I visited the Gambella region of Ethiopia with President Higgins. It is host to almost 200,000 South Sudanese refugees. Crises of this scale continue to overwhelm the humanitarian response system.
Ireland consistently champions the importance of directing funding to where it is most needed. The provision of humanitarian assistance, necessary to protect and sustain life, continues to form a vital part of Ireland’s development cooperation engagement.
Ebola / Fragile States
And indeed, in line with One World, One Future commitments, we are deepening engagement in fragile states. These countries are home to a growing proportion of the worlds’ poor – approximately 1.5 billion live in conflict-affected and fragile states.
Sierra Leone and Liberia are new partner countries for Ireland and are among the poorest and most fragile countries in the world. I remain extremely concerned about the ebola situation and the scale of the crisis in West Africa. Ebola not only poses a threat to national and international security but also the health risks undermine opportunities for recovery and development as well as impacting on the social, economic and political stability of entire regions.
I went to Sierra Leone last October to see the situation first hand.
My visit to Freetown allowed me to demonstrate solidarity on behalf of the people of Ireland with those who have been worst-affected. I also met front line workers from Goal, Concern, the Red Cross, and Médicins Sans Frontieres, in addition to key Government officials and staff from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend them all for their extraordinary commitment and dedication in working in the most challenging, complex and dynamic situation. Our own Embassy in Freetown has been playing a key role in the fight to end Ebola and these efforts has been exemplary and highly effective. And just last week, four members of our Defence Forces were deployed to our Embassy to support the efforts of the International Community in helping in the response to Ebola.
During my visit, I was able to see for myself the impact of the Ebola crisis and I was challenged by what I saw.
I was challenged because I saw in stark terms the range of issues confronting the people of Sierra Leone – government, NGOs, civil society, private sector, communities, families and individuals. The current humanitarian crisis in the region is also accompanied by a political, social and economic crisis. It is also stark evidence of the links between poverty and disease and in particular the need for good public health systems.
It demonstrates how significant and hard won development gains built up in Sierra Leone and Liberia over the past decade could be wiped out so quickly and with such devastation.
Our primary objective must be to have systems and institutions in place which will work for poor people and stand the test of time.
It is clear the vital role which education and health must play in development. We in Ireland know this from our own experience. Our new policy also reaffirms that Ireland’s strong commitment to education and health will continue. Education levels have a direct bearing on people’s participation in social and economic development.
Partner Country Level
I am pleased that the Peer Review recognised the importance for Irish Aid to continue to push for improving the effective delivery of international commitments for making aid more effective.
I saw first hand during my visit to Ethiopia how Ireland’s development cooperation programme is making a difference on the ground. Ethiopia remains one of the poorest nations in the world, struggling to meet the needs of a population which is growing by some two million per year. It is hampered by poor rainfall, high food prices and crop production problems. Ethiopia is making strong progress in raising people’s resilience to shocks and stresses, such as drought and the impact of climate change. And we are determined to work with them as they build a new future for their people.
The importance of our commitment to work together with our developing country partners to assist them strengthen their systems for delivery of services and accountability to poor people is crucial. Citizens must also be equipped to shape their own lives.
The OECD Development Assistance Committee has been instrumental in ensuring that official development aid is delivered in the most effective manner possible.
Africa Ireland Economic Forum / Inclusive Economic Growth
I have noted the recommendations in the Peer Review report on how “we will operationalise the One World, One Future priority on inclusive economic growth and define the coherence and linkages with the Africa Strategy’s trade objectives”.
The current debate on sustainable development and the ongoing work on financing for development are testimony to the recognition that aid alone will not resolve development problems. Increased trade and investment must also play its part.
If ODA is to be effective, if poverty eradication and sustainable development are to be achieved, the necessary conditions must be created at national level to ensure economic stability and inclusive growth.
The recent Africa Ireland Economic Forum, the largest annual Africa-focussed economic event in Ireland, took place in Dublin at the end of October. Nora Owen, Chair of the Irish Aid Expert Advisory Group, led a very interesting and timely discussion at the Forum on the coherence between Ireland’s trade promotion and development objectives. I am currently considering a report sent to me by the Advisory Group on this topic.
As pointed out by Minister Flanagan and by the DAC Chair, Erik Solheim, 2015 will be a critical year in the fight to end extreme poverty and hunger. Ireland will be taking on the responsibility of a leadership role at the United Nations. Our work will serve to highlight the many challenges and opportunities which now arise for all of us as we seek to really understand and promote sustainable development and peace in Africa and beyond.
The Peer Review Report launched here today will help guide Ireland as we build on the current strengths of our development cooperation programme.
As I look around the room today I see the deep well of development experience and capacity that we have here in Ireland. I saw this in action in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.
I was very proud of what we, as a small country, can achieve in partnership with others. I am determined that this vital work will continue.