Charities in plea over State aid for Ethiopia

Irish development aid to Ethiopia should not be cut off because of unfounded allegations of corruption, it was claimed tonight.

Trócaire and Concern distanced themselves from the criticisms voiced by Goal, which has called for the Government’s €35m annual aid budget to Ethiopia to be suspended or diverted.

“Broadly in the balance, we would feel that Irish Government is justified in continuing its support,” said Mike Williams, Trocaire’s head of international development.

The Ethiopian Government had been hailed for running free and fair multi-party elections last May but it attracted severe criticism for its handling of the violence which followed.

Around 120 people were killed in clashes with security forces and thousands of opposition figures were imprisoned.

At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Concern chief executive Tom Arnold said his agency favoured a combined approach which involved engagement with the Ethiopian Government, a continuation of aid and international support.

“There is the risk that the focus on corruption undermines public confidence in aid and is actually a misstatement of facts,” he said.

There was strong criticism of John O’Shea from several members of the committee, who had received an email full of questions from the Goal chief executive last night.

Progressive Democrats TD Liz O’Donell said that dangerous propaganda was undermining the Irish aid programme.

“If people hear on a regular basis that the Irish Government supports corrupt Governments, which is a falsehood, we lose aid and support,” she said.

Fianna Fáil senator Paschal Mooney said that while he always had great regard for the work of John O’Shea, he was disappointed that he had not taken up two invitations to appear before the committee.

“It’s all very well to sit on the sidelines and swipe and attack. I’ll say to you John: ‘Come out in the open’.”

The committee heard that the situation in Ethopia had not been helped by inaccurate leaks from the EU election monitoring body which led the opposition to wrongly believe they had been cheated of victory.

Britain and several other countries have decided to withdraw their direct aid to Ethopia and re-direct it to regional areas in the country instead, an approach which has been used for several years by the Irish Government.

The country is still one of the poorest in the world with more than half of its 70 million euro population living in long-term poverty.

The Ethiopian Embassy spokesman Goitom Kahsay mounted a strong defence of his Government’s actions when he appeared before the committee.

“It is true that democracy has only been a recent development in Ethiopia, but in the last 13 years we have made significant progress. We are undoubtedly heading in the right direction,” he said.

Mr Kahsay accused the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition of using violence in an attempt to overthrow the Government.

He said an independent inquiry had been set up to investigate if the security forces applied ‘excessive use of force’ and added that all prisoners would be tried in open court.

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