Irish development aid may be propping up a corrupt government regime in Ethiopia, it was claimed today.
Government forces killed several dozen protestors and jailed hundreds more since disputed elections were held last May.
The Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee today held a discussion on the issue with Development Co-operation Minister Conor Lenihan and with NGOs in the sub-Saharan country.
Mr Lenihan said the Irish Government contributed €35m aid to Ethiopia in 2005 but all further donations were under review in light of recent events.
Mr Lenihan said the current unrest could be a temporary blip on an otherwise positive trend or the beginning of a downward spiral.
“I hope it is the former, but I don’t discount the latter,” he said.
“I intend to keep Ireland’s aid program to Ethiopia under constant review and developments like the internal crisis and the border dispute with Eritrea will influence the future development co-operation relationship between Ireland and Ethiopia.
“I can assure the committee that if the circumstances dictate, we are prepared to take unpalatable decisions.
“But given the high stakes, the welfare of Africa’s most vulnerable people, I make no excuses for taking a careful and measured approach in making assessments.”
The minister told TDs and senators that he will be guided by the situation on the ground, the EU and NGOs.
Fine Gael’s foreign affairs spokesman Bernard Allen said: “The Ethiopian government has behaved recklessly and irresponsibly towards its citizens.”
He pointed to evidence of alleged election fraud, murder of villagers and banning of the free press.
The Ethiopian government was fuelling tribal divisions which could have frightening consequences in the future, he added.
“We are propping up what is obviously a corrupt regime,” Mr Allen said.
The Irish government was recently criticised by GOAL chief John O’Shea who said state aid to the Ethiopian government in the current circumstances was flawed and misguided.
Calling for a continuation of aid, Progressive Democrats Committee member Liz O’Donnell said Ireland must have no selfish political or colonial interest in Ethiopia, but must only be there to help.
“We have to use partnership to make space for diplomatic dialogue. We must keep the relationship respectful of the sovereignty of the country,” she said.
Senator Pascal Mooney also called for aid to continue, adding: “It wouldn’t be the government that would suffer, it would be the ordinary people.”
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denies claims by the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition that it rigged the ballot.