Statement to the Seanad
by Minister of State for Overseas Development, Trade Promotion and North-South Cooperation, Seán Sherlock
4th February 2015
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the Seanad today, at the beginning of what may turn out to be one of the most important years in world development.
2015 will see international agreements on a new global development agenda, agreement on how to finance this agenda, and a legally-binding agreement on climate change. These agreements will affect all of us, but particularly the poorest and most vulnerable. 2015 is also the European Year of Development, dedicated to building public awareness of the results achieved through development aid and a greater understand of global justice issues.
However, before we look forward to the events of 2015, I would like to take a look back at some of the key achievements and processes of Irish Aid in the past year.
Last year, the Government allocated almost €600 million to Official Development Assistance (ODA). This represents a significant investment by Ireland in building a fairer, more peaceful and more sustainable world.
As a small island nation, our fate is inextricably linked with other nations and peoples. We give aid because it is right to help those in need, but also because we understand that it is in our interest to live in a more equal and prosperous world. According to a recent Europe-wide survey, this view is shared by the majority of Irish people, with almost 9 in 10 believing assisting developing countries is important, and over two thirds supportive of an increase in the aid budget.
The past year was marked by significant policy developments, including three seminal publications – the Irish Aid Framework for Action, the OECD DAC Peer Review of our aid programme, and Ireland’s foreign policy review, The Global Island.
Framework for Action
The Framework for Action was launched in September, and will guide policy and programming decisions on Ireland’s aid programme between now and 2017. The Framework outlines the outcomes, actions, and institutional structures necessary to achieve the goals of our international development policy, One World, One Future.
These outcomes include areas that Ireland has worked on for decades, including tackling hunger and poverty, and improving access to basic services like health, education and social protection.
It also includes relatively new areas of work in our aid programme, such as addressing climate change, governance and human rights issues and integrating trade and inclusive economic growth. Irish Aid’s internal structures have been reorganised to align with the new Framework, with new policy teams established on Inclusive Economic Growth, Hunger and Resilience, Governance and Accountability and Essential Services.
Given time limitations, I will not go into detail on the content of the Framework today, but I would encourage all Senators to read the document, and familiarise yourself with the key outcomes of our aid programme. It is available on the Irish Aid website.
OECD-DAC Peer Review of Ireland’s aid programme
The report of the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s peer review of Ireland’s aid programme was published in December. The DAC Peer Review is the most serious, wide-ranging and in-depth review of each country’s aid programme done by peers in other government aid programmes. Ireland’s review was carried out by Austria and Portugal, with Lithuania as an observer.
The Review gave a very positive assessment of Ireland’s aid programme, particularly the extent to which it is targeted at the poorest countries and reaches those most vulnerable.
It commended Ireland for grounding its policies in the needs and priorities of its partner countries, and having a clear overall vision for development cooperation.
The Review noted that Ireland plays a leadership role at global level on its priority issues, particularly Hunger and Nutrition. It also praises Ireland for responding rapidly and effectively to natural and other disasters.
The Peer Review provided valuable recommendations on several issues, including improving our whole-of-Government approach to development, and encouraging greater sharing of information on programmes and projects, both externally and internally. Work is already underway to address most of these recommendations, and officials in my Department will be addressing the areas highlighted over the coming year.
Ireland’s foreign policy review: The Global Island
The third key policy document developed in 2014, and published just a few weeks ago, is Ireland’s foreign policy review, The Global Island.
The Global Island considers the challenges and opportunities for Ireland in a new globalised world, under five closely linked themes:
It sets out Ireland’s support for a fairer, more just, more secure and more sustainable world, including through our development aid programme, our human rights and peacekeeping policies, and our engagement with global issues such as climate change.
The Global Island again reaffirms the centrality of the Irish Aid programme to our foreign policy, and recognises the aid programme as a vital tool in addressing the complex factors behind poverty, hunger and inequality. We will continue to promote development as a key part of our values and our foreign policy.
Ireland’s response to humanitarian challenges in 2014
2014 was also a year which presented massive humanitarian challenges. The Ebola crisis and an unprecedented refugee crisis arising from conflict and natural disasters caused untold suffering, and put a heavy strain on international humanitarian architecture.
Ireland played a strong role in the international response to the Ebola crisis, through our Embassy in Sierra Leone and our support to partners based in affected countries. Approaching 9,000 have died from the Ebola virus and more than 22,000 people are reported to have been infected.
Ireland provided funding of almost €18 million in 2014 directly and to organisations working on the Ebola response in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are both partner countries for Ireland. The funding supported Ebola treatment facilities, community awareness-raising, contact-tracing and child nutrition programmes.
Ireland also dispatched 42 tonnes of essential household items as part of our Rapid Response Initiative, to be distributed to affected communities. These included blankets, tents, mosquito nets, soap, and water tanks.
I travelled to Sierra Leone in October last year, and witnessed for myself the difference being made by the work of our Embassy staff and Irish Aid’s support to partner organisations. I met with Irish aid workers in organisations like Goal and Concern, as well as the Sierra Leone Government and UN partners. While the challenges were overwhelming, I was hugely impressed with the dedication of those working to alleviate the crisis, and with the effectiveness of our response.
There appears to have been a welcome slow-down in the infection rates in recent weeks, though there are fluctuations from country to country. It is critical, however, that we are not complacent. Ireland will continue to support the response to the Ebola crisis and its secondary impacts on communities in 2015.
Crises in Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan
The ongoing conflict in Syria and the region has created a deeply troubling humanitarian crisis. More than 200,000 people have died, with 12.2 million people in need of immediate life-saving support within Syria. Due to the violence and the lack of access to aid, 3.8 million people have left Syria for neighbouring countries.
Many of those in need of humanitarian assistance are beyond reach, with both the Syrian Government and rebel factions using siege tactics and heavy weaponry in populated areas. The targeting of humanitarian workers by the group Islamic State (ISIS) also prevents millions from receiving the help they so desperately need. The UN has responded by delivering cross-border aid, even where the Assad regime has withheld permission.
Since 2011, Ireland has provided nearly €29 million in humanitarian support, delivered through UN partners, the Red Cross and Irish NGOs. Ireland’s support has been focused on supporting people displaced within Syria and those across the wider region.
In December, the UN released its 2015 Syria Crisis appeal plans, requesting over $8.4 billion to meet the needs of 18 million people in Syria and across the region. We are now considering how Ireland can best respond to the need for additional assistance in 2015.
Ireland is also continuing to respond to acute crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Iraq, which have witnessed displacements of huge numbers of people due to ongoing violence. Most recently, we have mobilised emergency supplies to respond to the devastating floods in Malawi, as part of our Rapid Response Initiative and in coordination with our Embassy in Lilongwe.
Post-2015 Development Agenda
If the past year was filled with important milestones for Irish aid policy and programming, 2015 promises to see key milestones in the global development agenda. With agreements expected on a set of Sustainable Development Goals and an intergovernmental climate change deal, 2015 has been compared to 1945 in terms of its importance to world development.
The Sustainable Development Goals will be a set of universally-applicable goals and targets, negotiated and agreed by the world’s 193 countries.
They are aimed at eradicating poverty, addressing environmental degradation and climate change, and building a more peaceful, fair and sustainable world. The Goals will cover such diverse areas as agriculture, education, gender equality, health, justice, employment and environmental degradation.
This has never been attempted before, and will be a huge achievement for humanity if successful. 2015 will also see agreement on how to finance these Goals at the Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia in July.
Ireland is privileged to be at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goal process, following our appointment as co-facilitators with Kenya of the inter-governmental negotiations to agree the Goals. Our appointment is testament to the reputation of Ireland’s aid programme, Irish Aid; and our proud record of promoting human rights and participation in peacekeeping across the world. This final phase of negotiations officially began on the 19th January, and will culminate in a summit of world leaders in September 2015.
Agreement on a legally-binding climate change agreement will be another critical achievement. The effects of climate change have already negatively affected the lives of millions of people in the world, from small farmers in Africa to those in the Small Island States of the Pacific.
If we fail to act quickly and radically, we are on course to make our planet uninhabitable for vast numbers of people.
I am proud that Ireland is playing such as key role in establishing this new global agenda, and I look forward to ensuring that we contribute to a new era of global development, where poverty and hunger are consigned to history.
I thank the Chairman and Members for the opportunity to address the Seanad this afternoon. I am grateful to have the opportunity to outline the work we have done in the past year; and to highlight some of the important upcoming processes in 2015. I look forward to our discussion today and any feedback or questions on the issues I have outlined.