Push to expand overseas aid budget

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan wants to expand the overseas aid budget in the Coalition’s final months and have Ireland officially recognise Palestine as a state.

Mr Flanagan says there should be “common ground” between Fine Gael and Labour in the run-up to the general election, which he thinks will be next spring.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Fine Gael minister also outlined his vision for peace in the Middle East and spoke about internal party matters.

Amid a commitment by the Coalition to increase spending significantly in the budget for the first time in years since the recession, ministers are pushing for extra cash for departments.

Mr Flanagan said it was good that Ireland protected its development aid budget during the recession, with more than €600m still given to “hardworking” agencies in Africa, the Middle East and beyond this year. He added: “It is important in the context of the forthcoming budget that that is fully protected. I certainly will be making my pitch for the protection and the expansion of the overseas aid budget. But these negotiations are only just commencing.”

The estimates process, where departments and ministers pitch their 2016 spending plans and budget pressures to Government, began in recent weeks.

The overseas aid budget fell from a high of €920m in 2008 to €599m last year before coming back up slightly.

Department sources say crises such as ebola, Syria and the Nepal quake mean aid agencies are increasingly being called on to intervene.

The minister spoke about the Middle East and securing peace between Israel and Palestine. He said he was a firm believer in the two-state solution. Having visited the Palestinian enclave of Gaza in February and Tel Aviv in Israel, he said he wanted to see peace talks recommence.

The Dáil and Seanad unanimously voted last year for Palestine to be officially recognised as a state by Ireland, a move 135 other countries have officially done. Mr Flanagan said he would like to see Ireland formally give the Palestinian territories recognition before the Coalition finishes its term.

“It needs to be accompanied by progress in terms of negotiation and talks. I want our recognition to be meaningful, I want it to be part of a settlement process.

“And that’s why I exhorted President Mahmoud Abbas [the Palestinian Authority leader] to continue to use his influence and intensify his efforts to bring about a level of influence over Hamas in Gaza. I see that as very much being an obstacle to a peaceful solution.”

Mr Flanagan said he thought the Israeli government could also do more: “I spoke to Mr Lieberman [Israel’s foreign affairs minister until recently] during the [Israeli] election campaign about the need to halt what I felt was unhelpful expansion in the settlements. I think we can do more on dissuading the Israelis to continue to expand the settlements. I think we can take initiatives on the [sale of] settlement goods.”

The Laois-Offaly TD, despite speculation of an early election, wants the Coalition to run its full term “I’d like to see the Government run until the spring.”


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