I am delighted to welcome you to Iveagh House this afternoon for the launch of the 2014 Irish Aid Annual Report. It is a pleasure to join with Minister Sherlock to highlight the achievements of our aid programme. And to recognise the challenges and opportunities we face as we prepare for the major Summit at the United Nations in New York at the end of September. There, we will agree a new agenda for global development, with the objective of ending extreme poverty and hunger in the world by 2030 – in a single generation.
Ireland has been playing a leading role in this process, co-facilitating the intergovernmental negotiations with Kenya. This, as I have said before, is an honour, but it is one we have earned as a country over 60 years of membership of the United Nations. We are recognised especially for our role in UN peacekeeping. But also, very clearly, for the quality of our aid programme, and the links we make between our work on the ground with some of the poorest communities in Africa and the policy positions we espouse on development issues in New York, Brussels, and next week in Addis Ababa.
Last year, the OECD launched an independent peer review of Ireland’s aid programme, and, again, emphasised that it is one of the most effective in the world. The Government has protected the aid programme during some of the harshest years ever for the Irish economy and the Irish people. We did so because it is the Irish people’s aid programme, and it reflects their values and their commitment to their fellow global citizens. Let me emphasise today, that the Government is firmly committed to the programme and to making progress on the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNP for development assistance.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I participate every month in the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. There, I have highlighted the role Ireland has been playing in responding to the unprecedented scale of humanitarian suffering across the world. In Syria, in Iraq, in South Sudan and Somalia, in the Central African Republic. Irish humanitarian assistance is provided on the basis of need, and we are determined not to ignore many of the forgotten emergencies highlighted by the United Nations, which often do not make the headlines in the news.
Humanitarian assistance addresses immediate need, but our long term development programmes in Africa aim to stop crises before they emerge. The Irish Aid report demonstrates that progress can be made and is being made. We chose our Key Partner Countries in Africa initially because they were some of the poorest in the world. Under our Africa Strategy, we are committed to staying with them in the fight against poverty. We are working with them to create economic and social opportunity, and societies and economies which will be our economic and trading partners.
Look at some of the progress which has been made during 2014. In Ethiopia, for example, our support for maternal health services for poor rural women has contributed to a 70% reduction in maternal mortality. In Mozambique, our support for training and recruiting female teachers has contributed to a 9% increase in the enrolment of girls in school. In Tanzania, our support for nutrition programmes has contributed to an 8% drop in chronic malnutrition rates.
These figures may seem like dry statistics on a page, but in reality, they represent a dramatic improvement in the living conditions of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. They are concrete proof that our aid programme is making a positive difference in the world.
The Report also reminds us that our link to the developing world is not just about a one-way flow of aid. It is about Ireland’s place and role in the world. Many of the topics dealt with in the report resonate just as strongly with us as they do with citizens of developing countries. Economic growth, trade rules, labour standards, climate change: these are all issues that show there is no imaginary line between the developed and the developing world. We recognise that neither Ireland nor our partners in the developing world will prosper if we try to focus on a narrow definition of our needs, and ignore the world outside.
We must also recognise that the appalling conflicts we are witnessing in Europe’s near neighbourhood represent more than development challenges. They challenge us to take a comprehensive approach, to foreign policy, economics, development and security. They challenge us to uphold the principles of democracy, human rights, and humanitarian law - principles on which the post-war international system is based. The Irish Aid Report highlights that 10% of our aid funding is directed towards human rights, governance and accountability programmes. Our support to parliaments, the justice sectors, human rights organisations and oversight institutions are all essential elements in our work for peace and stability in the world.
The Irish Aid programme is a central element of our foreign policy. This has been reiterated in the Review of our Foreign Policy, The Global Island, and is one of the main ways that Ireland contributes to a fairer, more peaceful world. It reflects a core part of our identity as a people – we refuse to ignore the suffering of others; we choose instead to work actively to ensure our interconnectedness is a cause for celebration, not fear.
I am immensely proud of our aid programme, and it is a privilege to launch this Annual Report, which captures and shares the many results it has achieved in just one year.