The spending of more than €600m on overseas aid this year has been defended by Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore as “the right thing to do”, despite the economic crisis.
But he stressed smarter use would be made of funds to ensure results in terms of helping poorer countries work their way out of aid programmes, stabilise after conflict, and develop mutually beneficial trade links.
The Tánaiste was speaking at the publication of a policy document that will guide Irish Aid spending priorities over the next four years.
The last policy document was published seven years ago. The annual overseas aid budget grew to a record of €914m within that period and although it has been cut by one-third since, the reduction is less severe than in other bailout countries.
Mr Gilmore said the Government would try to avoid further cuts and remained committed to increasing aid to the UN-agreed target of 0.7% of national income per year as the economy improved.
“This is about Irish values. We have never been a people who could look the other way,” Mr Gilmore said.
“Although times are difficult at home, we stand by the children struggling to reach their fifth birthday in a world where 7.5m children die before they reach this age every year.
“And we stand in solidarity with the subsistence farmer whose crops have failed because of drought and whose family faces a perilous future.
“We do this because of our sense of justice and compassion, born of a history of famine suppression, and conflict. And we do it because it is the right thing to do in an increasingly interconnected world.”
Irish Aid works with governments and NGOs in 90 countries, but nine have priority status.
Under the new policy, Timor Leste leaves that priority group to be replaced by Sierra Leone, while the others — Ethiopia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Vietnam — remain the same.
More focus will be placed on so-called fragile states that are emerging from conflict; greater efforts will be made to tackle the effects of climate change; and there is to be a revamping of the voluntary service programme that places professionals abroad.
New procedures for the publication of aid data are also to be in place by 2015 with the aim of enabling taxpayers to see exactly to which countries, NGOs, projects, and their money goes and the results.
Joe Costello, the trade and development minister, said that more emphasis would be placed on working with countries towards their own economic development, a trend that was already in evidence in many African nations, which are growing at a rate of 5%-7% per year.
He said: “Aid on its own will never be able to develop countries to ensure they reach that level where they are able to feed their own people. Economic development is necessary as well.”
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